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The Press-Gang 



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\ 1913 

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.•• -«. •* 


I. How THE Press-Gang came in 
II. Why the Gang was necessary 

III. What the Press-Gang was . 
IV. Whom the Gang might take 
V. What the Gang did Afloat 
VI. Evading the Gang 

VII. What the Gang did Ashore 
VIII. At Grips with the Gang 
IX. The Gang at Play 
X. Women and the Press-Gang 
XI. In the Clutch of the Gang 

XII. How the Gang went out 









Appendix: Admiral Young's Torpedo 
Index . 




An Unwelcome Visit from the Press Gang Frontispiece 


Manning the Navy ...... 56 

Reproduced by kind permission from a rare print in the collection of 
Mr. A. M. Broadlby. 

The Press-Gang seizing a Victim . . . .80 

Seizing a Waterman on Tower Hill on the Morning 

OF his Wedding Day . . . . .116 

Jack in the Bilboes ...... 130 

From the Painting by Morland. 

One of the Rarest of Press-Gang Records . . 188 

A play-bill announcing the suspension of the Gang's operations on 
" Play Nights," in the collection of Mr. A. M. Broadlkv, by 
whose kind permission it is reproduced. 

Sailors Carousing . . . . . .236 

From the Mezzotint after J. Ibbbtson. 

Anne Mills who served on board the Maidstone in 1740 258 
Mary Anne Talbot . . . . . .266 

Mary Anne Talbot dressed as a Sailor . . . 278 

The Press Gang, or English Liberty Displayed . 306 

Admiral Young's Torpedo ..... 332 

Reproduced from the Original Drawing at the Public Record Office. 



The practice of pressing men — that is to say, of 
taking by intimidation or force those who will not 
volunteer — would seem to have been world-wide in its 

Wherever man desired to have a thing done, and 
was powerful enough to insure the doing of it, there 
he attained his end by the simple expedient of com- 
pelling others to do for him what he, unaided, could 
not do for himself. 

The individual, provided he did not conspire in 
sufficient numbers to impede or defeat the end in 
view, counted only as a food-consuming atom in the 
human mass which was set to work out the purpose 
of the master mind and hand. His face value in the 
problem was that of a living wage. If he sought to 
enhance his value by opposing the master hand, the 
master hand seized him and wrung his withers. 

So long as the compelling power confined the 
doing of the things it desired done to works of con- 
struction, it met with little opposition in its designs, 
experienced little difficulty in coercing the labour 


necessary for piling its walls, excavating its tanks, 
raising its pyramids and castles, or for levelling its 
rog,d[s: arid' b^ftt^rg its ships and cities. These were 
jhe. cpiniTionprace achievements of peace, at which 
;,\ bvjeinVt4? cOQrcecf/ijilght toil unafraid ; for apart from 
the normal incidence of death, such works entailed 
little danger to the lives of the multitudes who wrought 
upon them. Men could in consequence be procured 
for them by the exercise of the minimum of coercion 
— by, that is to say, the mere threat of it. 

When peace went to the wall and the pressed 
man was called upon to go to battle, the case assumed 
another aspect, an acuter phase. Given a state of 
war, the danger to life and limb, the incidence of 
death, at once jumped enormously, and in proportion 
as these disquieting factors in the pressed man's lot 
mounted up, just in that proportion did his opposition 
to the power that sought to take him become the 
more determined, strenuous, and undisguised. 

Particularly was this true of warlike operations 
upon the sea, for to the extraordinary and terrible 
risks of war were here added the ordinary but ever- 
present dangers of wind and wave and storm, sufficient 
in themselves to appal the unacccustomed and to 
antagonise the unwilling. In face of these superlative 
risks the difficulty of procuring men was accentuated 
a thousand-fold, and with it both the nature and the 
degree of the coercive force necessary to be exercised 
for their procuration. 

In these circumstances the Ruling Power had no 
option but to resort to more exigent means of attaining 
its end. In times of peace, working through myriad 
hands, it had constructed a thousand monuments of 


ornamental or utilitarian industry. These, with the 
commonweal they represented, were now threatened 
and must be protected at all costs. What more 
reasonable than to demand of those who had built, 
or of their successors in the perpetual inheritance of 
toil, that they should protect what they had reared. 
Hitherto, in most cases, the men required to meet 
the national need had submitted at a threat. They 
had to live, and coercive toil meant at least a living 
wage. Now, made rebellious by a fearful looking 
forward to the risks they were called upon to incur, 
they had to be met by more effective measures. 
Faced by this emergency, Power did not mince 
matters. It laid violent hands upon the unwilling 
subject and forced him, nolens volens, to sail its ships, 
to man its guns, and to fight its battles by sea as he 
already, under less overt compulsion, did its bidding 
by land. 

It is with this phase of pressing — pressing open, 
violent and unashamed — that we purpose here to deal, 
and more particularly with pressing as it applies to 
the sea and sailors, to the Navy and the defence of an 
Island Kingdom. 

At what time the pressing of men for the sea 
service of the Crown was first resorted to in these 
islands it is impossible to determine. There is 
evidence, however, that the practice was not only 
in vogue, but firmly established as an adjunct of 
power, as early as the days of the Saxon kings. It 
was, in fact, coeval with feudalism, of which it may 
be described as a side-issue incidental to a maritime 
situation ; for though it is impossible to point to any 
species of fee, as understood of the tenure of land, 


under which the holder was liable to render service at 
sea, yet it must not be forgotten that the great ports 
of the kingdom, and more especially the Cinque Ports, 
were from time immemorial bound to find ships for 
national purposes, whenever called upon to do so, in 
return for the peculiar rights and privileges conferred 
upon them by the Crown. The supply of ships 
necessarily involved the supply of men to sail and 
fight them, and in this supply, or, rather, in the mode 
of obtaining it, we have undoubtedly the origin of the 
later impress system. 

With the reign of John the practice springs into 
sudden prominence. The incessant activities of that 
uneasy king led to almost incessant pressing, and at 
certain crises in his reign commission after commis- 
sion is directed, in feverish succession, to the sheriffs 
of counties and the bailiffs of seaports throughout the 
kingdom, straitly enjoining them to arrest and stay all 
ships within their respective jurisdictions, and with the 
ships the mariners who sail them.^ No exception was 
taken to these edicts. Long usage rendered the royal 
lien indefeasible.^ 

^ By a plausible euphemism they were said to be "hired." As a 
matter of fact, both ships and men were retained during the royal 
pleasure at rates fixed by custom. 

2 In more modern times the pressing of ships, though still put 
forward as a prerogative of the Crown, was confined in the main to un- 
foreseen exigencies of transport. On the fall of Louisburg in 1760, 
vessels were pressed at that port in order to carry the prisoners of war 
to France {Ad.* i. 1491— Capt. Byron, 17 June 1760) ; and in 1764, again, 
we find Capt. Brereton, of the Falmouth^ forcibly impressing the East 
India ship Revenge for the purpose of transporting to Fort St. George, 
in British India, the company, numbering some four hundred and twenty- 
one souls, of the Siam, then recently condemned at Manilla as unsea- 
worthy. — Ad. i. 1498 — Letters of Capt. Brereton, 1764. 

* Ad.f in the footnotes, signifies Admiralty Records, 


In the carrying out of the royal commands there 
was consequently, at this stage in the development of 
pressing, little if any resort to direct coercion. From 
the very nature of the case the principle of coercion 
was there, but it was there only in the bud. The 
king's right to hale whom he would into his service 
being practically undisputed, a threat of reprisals in 
the event of disobedience answered all purposes, and 
even this threat was as yet more often implied than 
openly expressed. King John was perhaps the first 
to clothe it in words. Requisitioning the services of 
the mariners of Wales, a notoriously disloyal body, he 
gave the warrant, issued in 1208, a severely minatory 
turn. " Know ye for certain," it ran, " that if ye act 
contrary to this, we will cause you and the masters of 
your vessels to be hanged, and all your goods to be 
seized for our use." 

At this point in the gradual subjection of the 
seaman to the needs of the nation, defensive or the 
contrary, we are confronted by an event as remarkable 
in its nature as it is epoch-making in its consequences. 
Magna Charta was sealed on the 15th of June 12 15, 
and within a year of that date, on, namely, the 14th 
of April then next ensuing, King John issued his 
commission to the barons of twenty-two seaports, 
requiring them, in terms admitting of neither mis- 
construction nor compromise, to arrest all ships, and 
to assemble those ships, together with their companies, 
in the River of Thames before a certain day.^ This 
wholesale embargo upon the shipping and seamen of 
the nation, imposed as it was immediately after the 
ensealing of Magna Charta, raises a question of great 

^ Hardy, Rotuli Litterarum Clausarum^ 1833. 


constitutional interest. In what sense, and to what 
extent, was the Charter of English Liberties intended 
to apply to the seafaring man ? 

Essentially a tyrant and a ruthless promise-breaker, 
John's natural cruelty would in itself sufficiently 
account for the dire penalties threatened under the 
warrant of 1 208 ; but neither his tyranny, his faithless- 
ness of character, nor his very human irritation at the 
concessions wrung from him by his barons, can explain 
to our satisfaction why, having granted a charter 
affirming and safeguarding the liberties of, ostensibly, 
every class of his people, he should immediately inflict 
upon one of those classes, and that, too, the one least 
of all concerned in his historic dispute, the pains of a 
most rigorous impressment. The only rational ex- 
planation of his conduct is, that in thus acting he was 
contravening no convention, doing violence to no 
covenant, but was, on the contrary, merely exercising, 
in accordance with time-honoured usage, an already 
well-recognised, clearly defined and firmly seated 
prerogative which the great charter he had so recently 
put his hand to was in no sense intended to limit 
or annul. 

This view of the case is confirmed by subsequent 
events. Press warrants, identical in every respect 
save one with the historic warrant of 12 16, continued 
to emanate from the Crown long after King John 
had gone to his account, and, what is more to the 
point, to emanate unchallenged. Stubbs himself, our 
greatest constitutional authority, repeatedly admits as 
much. Every crisis in the destinies of the Island 
Kingdom — and they were many and frequent — pro- 
duced its batch of these procuratory documents, every 


batch its quota of pressed men. The inference is 
plain. The mariner was the bondsman of the sea, 
and to him the Nullus liber homo capiatur clause of 
the Great Charter was never intended to apply. In 
his case a dead-letter from the first, it so remained 
throughout the entire chapter of his vicissitudes. 

The chief point wherein the warrants of later times 
differed from those of King John was this : As time 
went on the penalties they imposed on those who 
resisted the press became less and less severe. The 
death penalty fell into speedy disuse, if, indeed, it was 
ever inflicted at all. Imprisonment for a term of from 
one to two years, with forfeiture of goods, was held to 
meet all the exigencies of the case. Gradually even 
this modified practice underwent amelioration, until at 
length it dawned upon the official intelligence that a 
seaman who was free to respond to the summons of 
the boatswain's whistle constituted an infinitely more 
valuable physical asset than one who cursed his king 
and his Maker in irons. All punishment of the 
condign order, for contempt or resistance of the press, 
now went by the board, and in its stead the seaman 
was merely admonished in paternal fashion, as in a 
Proclamation of 1623, to take the king's shilling 
*' dutifully and reverently" when it was tendered 
to him. 

In its apparent guilelessness the admonition was 
nevertheless woefully deceptive. Like the subdued 
beat of drum by which, some five years later, the 
seamen of London were lured to Tower Hill, there to 
be seized and thrown bodily into the waiting fleet, it 
masked under its mild exterior the old threat of 
coercion in a new form. The ancient pains and 


penalties were indeed no more ; but for the back of 
the sailor who was so ill-advised as to defy the press 
there was another rod in pickle. He could now be 
taken forcibly. 

For side by side with the negative change involved 
in the abolition of the old punishments, there had been 
in progress, throughout the intervening centuries, a 
positive development of far worse omen for the hap- 
less sailor-man. The root-principle of direct coercion, 
necessarily inherent in any system that seeks to foist 
an arbitrary and obnoxious status upon any consider- 
able body of men, was slowly but surely bursting into 
bud. The years that had seen the unprested seaman 
freed from the dread of the yardarm and the horrors 
of the forepeak, had bred a new terror for him. 
Centuries of usage had strengthened the arm of that 
hated personage the Press-Master, and the compul- 
sion which had once skulked under cover of a threat 
now threw off its disguise and stalked the seafaring 
man for what it really was — Force, open and un- 
ashamed. The dernier ressort of former days was 
now the first resort. The seafaring man who refused 
the king's service when ** admonished " thereto had 
short shrift. He was "first knocked down, and then 
bade to stand in the king's name." Such, literally 
and without undue exaggeration, was the later system 
which, reaching the climax of its insolent pretensions 
to justifiable violence in the eighteenth century, for 
upwards of a hundred years bestrode the neck of the 
unfortunate sailor like some monstrous Old Man of 
the Sea. 

Outbursts of violent pressing before the dawn of 
the eighteenth century, though spasmodic and on the 


whole infrequent, were not entirely unknown. Times 
of national stress were peculiarly productive of them. 
Thus when, in 1545, there was reason to fear a 
French invasion, pressing of the most violent and 
unprecedented character was openly resorted to in 
order to man the fleet. The class who suffered most 
severely on that occasion were the fisher folk of 
Devon, ''the most part" of whom were ''taken as 
marryners to serve the king." ^ 

During the Civil Wars of the next century both 
parties to the strife issued press warrants which were 
enforced with the utmost rigour. The Restoration saw 
a marked recrudescence of similar measures. How 
great was the need of men at that time, and how 
exigent the means employed to procure them, may be 
gathered from the fact, cited by Pepys, that in 1666 
the fleet lay idle for a whole fortnight " without any 
demand for a farthing worth of anything, but only to 
get men." The genial diarist was deeply moved by 
the scenes of violence that followed. They were, he 
roundly declares, "a shame to think of." 

The origin of the term "pressing," with its cognates 
"to press" and "pressed," is not less remarkable than 
the genesis of the violence it so aptly describes. 
Originally the man who was required for the king's 
service at sea, like his twin brother the soldier, was 
not "pressed" in the sense in which we now use 
the term. He was merely subjected to a process 
called "presting." To "prest" a man meant to 
enlist him by means of what was technically known 

^ State Papers^ Henry vili. — Lord Russell to the Privy Council, 
22 Aug. 1545. Bourne, who cites the incident in his Tudor Seamen^ 
misses the essential point that the fishermen were forcibly pressed. 



as " prest " money — " prest " being the English 
equivalent of the obsolete French priest, now prH, 
meaning "ready." In the recruiter's vocabulary, 
therefore, "prest" money stood for what is nowa- 
days, in both services, commonly termed the ** king's 
shilling," and the man who, either voluntarily or under 
duress, accepted or received that shilling at the 
recruiter's hands, was said to be " prested " or "prest." 
In other words, having taken the king's ready money, 
he was thenceforth, during the king's pleasure, " ready " 
for the king's service. 

By the transfer of the prest shilling from the hand 
of the recruiter to the pouch of the seaman a subtle 
contract, as between the latter and his sovereign, was 
supposed to be set up, than which no more solemn or 
binding pact could exist save between a man and his 
Maker. One of the parties to the contract was more 
often than not, it is true, a strongly dissenting party ; 
but although under the common law of the land this 
circumstance would have rendered any similar con- 
tract null and void, in this amazing transaction between 
the king and his "prest" subject it was held to be 
of no vitiating force. From the moment the king s 
shilling, by whatever means, found its way into the 
sailor's possession, from that moment he was the 
king's man, bound in heavy penalties to toe the line of 
duty, and, should circumstances demand it, to fight 
the king's enemies to the death, be that fate either 
theirs or his. 

By some strange irony of circumstance there 
happened to be in the English language a word — 
" pressed " — which tallied almost exactly in pronuncia- 
tion with the old French -word prest, so long employed, 


as we have seen, to differentiate from his fellows 
the man who, by the devious means we have here 
described, was made ** ready" for the sea service. 
"Press" means to constrain, to urge with force — 
definitions precisely connoting the development and 
manner of violent enlistment. Hence, as the change 
from covert to overt violence grew in strength, 
** pressing," in the mouths of the people at large, 
came to be synonymous with that most obnoxious, 
oppressive and fear-inspiring system of recruiting 
which, in the course of time, took the place of its 
milder and more humane antecedent, " presting." 
The "prest" man disappeared,^ and in his stead there 
came upon the scene his later substitute the " pressed " 
man, ** forced," as Pepys so graphically describes his 
condition, ** against all law to be gone." An odder 
coincidence than this gradual substitution of *' pressed " 
iox prest, or one more grimly appropriate in its applica- 
tion, it would surely be impossible to discover in the 
whose history of nomenclature. 

With the growth of the power and violence of the 
impress there was gradually inaugurated another 
change, which perhaps played a larger part than any 
other feature of the system in making it finally 
obnoxious to the nation at large — finally, because, 
as we shall see, the nation long endured its exactions 
with pathetic submission and lamentable indifference. 
The incidence of pressing was no longer confined, 
as in its earlier stages, to the overflow of the populace 

^ The Law Officers of the Crown retained him, on paper, until the 
close of the eighteenth century — an example in which they were followed 
by the Admiralty. To admit his disappearance would have been to 
knock the bottom out of their case. 


upon the country's rivers, and bays, and seas. 
Gradually, as naval needs grew in volume and urgency, 
the press net was cast wider and wider, until at 
length, during the great century of struggle, when 
the system was almost constantly working at its 
highest pressure and greatest efficiency, practically 
every class of the population of these islands was 
subjected to its merciless inroads, if not decimated by 
its indiscriminate exactions. 

On the very threshold of the century we stumble 
upon an episode curiously indicative of the set of the 
tide. Czar Peter of Russia had been recently in 
England, acquiring a knowledge of English customs 
which, on his return home, he immediately began to 
put in practice. His navy, such as it was, was 
wretchedly manned.^ Russian serfs made bad sailors 
and worse seamen. In the English ships thronging 
the quays at Archangel there was, however, plenty of 
good stuff — men who could use the sea without being 
sick, men capable of carrying a ship to her destination 
without piling her up on the rocks or seeking nightly 
shelter under the land. He accordingly pressed every 
ninth man out of those ships. 

When news of this high - handed proceeding 

^ The navy got together by Czar Peter had all but disappeared by 
the time Catherine ii. came to the throne. " Ichabod" was written over 
the doors of the Russian Admiralty. Their ships of war were few in 
number, unseaworthy, ill-found, ill-manned. Two thousand able-bodied 
seamen could with difficulty be got together in an emergency. The 
nominal fighting strength of the fleet stood high, but that strength in 
reality consisted of men " one half of whom had never sailed out of the 
Gulf of Finland, whilst the other half had never sailed anywhere at all.'' 
When the fleet was ordered to sea, the Admiralty " put soldiers on 
board, and by calling them sailors persuaded themselves that they really 
were so." — State Papers^ Russia^ vol. Ixxvii. — Macartney, Nov. 16-27, 


reached England, it roused the Queen and her 
advisers to indignation. Winter though it was, they 
lost no time in dispatching Charles Whitworth, a 
rising diplomat of the suavest type, as ** Envoy 
Extraordinary to our Good (but naughty) Brother the 
Czar of Muscovy," with instructions to demand the 
release, immediate and unconditional, of the pressed 
men. Whitworth found the Czar at Moscow. The 
Autocrat of All the Russias listened affably enough 
to what he had to say, but refused his demand in 
terms that left scant room for doubt as to his sincerity 
of purpose, and none for protracted ''conversations." 
" Every Prince," he declared for sole answer, '' can 
take what he likes out of his own havens."^ The 
position thus taken up was unassailable. Centuries 
of usage hedged the prerogative in, and Queen Anne 
herself, in the few years she had been on the throne, 
had not only exercised it with a free hand, but had 
laid that hand without scruple upon many a foreign 

The lengths to which the system had gone by the 
end of the third quarter of the century is thrown into 
vivid relief by two incidents, one of which occurred in 
1726, the other fifty years later. 

In the former year one William Kingston, pressed 
in the Downs — a man who hailed from Lyme Regis 
and habitually "used the sea" — was, notwithstanding 
that fact, discliarged by express Admiralty order 
because he was a " substantial man and had a landed 
estate." 2 

^ Ad. I. 1436 — Capt. J. Anderson's letters and enclosures ; State 
Papers, Russia^ vol. iv. — V^hitworth to Secretary Harley. 

2 Ad. I. 1473 — Capt Charles Browne, 25 March 1726, and 


The incident of 1776, known as the Duncan case, 
occurred, or rather began, at North Shields. Lieu- 
tenant Oaks, captain of the press-gang in that town, 
one day met in the streets a man who, unfortunately 
for his future, " had the appearance of a seaman." 
He accordingly pressed him ; whereupon the man, 
whose name was Duncan, produced the title-deeds of 
certain house property in London, down Wapping 
way, worth some six pounds per annum, and claimed 
his discharge on the ground that as a freeholder and 
a voter he was immune from the press. The lieutenant 
laughed the suggestion to scorn, and Duncan was 
shipped south to the fleet. 

The matter did not end there. Duncan's friends 
espoused his cause and took energetic steps for his 
release. Threatened with an action at law, and averse 
from incurring either unnecessary risks or opprobrium 
where pressed men were concerned, the Admiralty 
referred the case to Mr. Attorney- General (afterwards 
Lord) Thurlow for "his opinion. 

The point of law Thurlow was called upon to 
resolve was, ** Whether being a freeholder is an 
exception from being pressed ; " and as Duncan was 
represented in counsel's instructions — on what ground, 
other than his " appearance," is not clear — to be a man 
who habitually used the sea, it is hardly matter for 
surprise that the great jurist's opinion, biassed as it 
obviously was by that alleged fact, should have been 
altogether inimical to the pressed man and favourable 
to the Admiralty. 

" I see no reason," he writes, in his crabbed hand 
and nervous diction, ** why men using the sea, and 
being otherwise fit objects to be impressed into His 



Majesty's service, should be exempted only because 
they are Freeholders. Nor did I ever read or hear 
of such an exemption. Therefore, unless some use or 
practice, which I am ignorant of, gives occasion to 
this doubt, I see no reason for a Mariner being 
discharged, seriously, because he is a Freeholder. 
It's a qualification easily attained : a single house 
at Wapping would ship a first-rate man-of-war. If 
a Freeholder is exempt, eo nomine, it will be impossible 
to go on with the pressing service.^ There is no 
knowing a Freeholder by sight : and if claiming that 
character, or even showing deeds is sufficient, few 
Sailors will be without it."^ 

Backed by this opinion, so nicely in keeping with 
its own inclinations, the Admiralty kept the man. 
Its views, like its practice, had undergone an antipodal 
change since the Kingston incident of fifty years 
before. And possession, commonly reputed to be 
nine points of the law, more than made up for the 
lack of that element in Mr. Attorney-General's 
sophistical reasoning. 

In this respect Thurlow was in good company, 
for although Coke, who lived before violent pressing 
became the rule, had given it as his opinion that the 
king could not lawfully press men to serve him in his 
wars, the legal luminaries who came after him, 
and more particularly those of the eighteenth century, 
differed from him almost to a man. Blackstone, 

^ It would have been equally impossible to go on with the naval 
service had the fleet contained many freeholders like John Barnes. 
Granted leave of absence from his ship, the Neptune, early in May, " in 
order to give his vote in the city," he " return'd not till the 8th of 
August." — Ad. I. 2653 — Capt. Whorwood, 23 Aug. 1741. 

^ Ad, 7. 299— Law Officers' Opinions, 1756-77, No. 64. 


whilst admitting that no statute expressly legalised 
pressing, reminded the nation — with a leer, we 
might almost say — that many statutes strongly implied, 
and hence — so he put it — amply justified it. In thus 
begging the question he had in mind the so-called 
Statutes of Exemption which, in protecting from 
impressment certain persons or classes of persons, 
proceeded on the assumption, so dear to the Sea 
Lords, that the Crown possessed the right to press all. 
This also was the view taken by Yorke, Solicitor- 
General in 1757. "I take the prerogative," he 
declares, "to be most clearly legal." ^ 

Another group of lawyers took similar, though 
less exalted ground. Of these the most eminent was 
that "great oracle of law," Lord Mansfield. "The 
power of pressing," he contends, " is founded upon 
immemorial usage allowed for ages. If not, it can 
have no ground to stand upon. The practice is 
deduced from that trite maxim of the Constitutional 
Law of England, that private mischief had better 
be submitted to than that public detriment should 

The sea-lawyer had yet to be heard. With him 
"private mischief" counted for much, the usage of 
past ages for very little. He lived and suffered in 
the present. Of common law he knew nothing, but 
he possessed a fine appreciation of common justice, 
and this forced from him an indictment of the system 
that held him in thrall as scathing in its truth, its 
simplicity and its logic as it is spontaneous and 
untutored in its diction. 

"You confidently tell us," said he, dipping his 

^ Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 102. 


pen in the gall of bitterness, "that our King is 
a father to us and our officers friends. They are so, 
we must confess, in some respects, for Indeed they 
use us like Children in Whiping us into Obedience. 
As for English Tars to be the Legitimate Sons of 
Liberty, it is an Old Cry which we have Experienced 
and Knows it to be False. God knows, the Con- 
stitution is admirable well Callculated for the Safety 
and Happiness of His Majesty's Subjects who live 
by Employments on Shore ; but alass, we are not 
Considered as Subjects of the same Sovereign, unless 
it be to Drag us by Force from our Families to Fight 
the Battles of a Country which Refuses us Protection." ^ 
Such, in rough outline, was the Impress System 
of the eighteenth century. In its inception, its 
development, and more especially in its extraordinary 
culmination, it perhaps constitutes the greatest 
anomaly, as it undoubtedly constitutes the grossest 
imposition, any free people ever submitted to. 
Although unlawful in the sense of having no founda- 
tion in law, and oppressive and unjust in that it yearly 
enslaved, under the most noxious conditions, thousands 
against their will, it was nevertheless for more than 
a hundred years tolerated and fostered as the readiest, 
speediest and most effective means humanly devisable 
for the manning of a fleet whose toll upon a free 
people, in the same "^period of time, swelled to more 
than thrice its original bulk. Standing as a bulwark 
against aggression and conquest, it ground under its 
heel the very people it protected, and made them 
slaves in order to keep them free. Masquerading 
as a protector, it dragged the wage-earner from his 

^ Ad. I. 5125 — Petitions of the Seamen of the Fleet, 1797. 



home and cast his starving family upon the doubtful 
mercies of the parish. And as if this were not 
enough, whilst justifying its existence on the score 
of public benefit it played havoc with the fisheries, 
clipped the wings of the merchant service, and sucked 
the life-blood out of trade. 

It was on the rising tide of such egregious con- 
tradictions as these that the press-gang came in ; for 
the press-gang was at once the embodiment and the 
active exponent of all that was anomalous or bad in 
the Impress System. 



The root of the necessity that seized the British 
sailor and made of him what he in time became, 
the most abject creature and the most efficient 
fighting unit the world has ever produced, lay in 
the fact that he was island-born. 

In that island a great and vigorous people had 
sprung into being — a people great in their ambi- 
tions, commerce and dominion ; vigorous in holding 
what they had won against the assaults, meditated 
or actual, of those who envied their greatness and 
coveted their possessions. Of this island people, as 
of their world-wide interests, the " chiefest defence" 
was a ''good fleet at sea."^ 

The Peace of Utrecht, marking though it did 
the close of the protracted war of the Spanish 
Succession, brought"^ to the Island Kingdom not 
peace, but a sword ; for although its Navy was 
now as unrivalled as its commerce and empire, the 
supreme struggle for existence, under the guise of 
the mastery of the sea, was only just begun. De- 
cade after decade, as that struggle waxed and waned 

^ This famous phrase is used, perhaps for the first time, by Josiah 
Burchett, sometime Secretary to the Admiralty, in his Observations on 
the Navy^ 1700. 



but went remorselessly on, the Navy grew in ships, 
the ships in tonnage and weight of metal, and with 
their growth the demand for men, imperative as the 
very existence of the nation, mounted ever higher 
and higher. In 1756 fifty thousand sufficed for the 
nation's needs. By 1780 the number had reached 
ninety-two thousand; and with 1802 it touched high- 
water mark in the unprecedented total of one 
hundred and twenty-nine thousand men in actual 
sea pay.^ 

Beset by this enormous and steadily growing 
demand, the Admiralty, the defensive proxy of the 
nation, had perforce to face the question as to 
where and how the men vv^ere to be obtained. 

The source of supply was never at any time in 
doubt. Here, ready to hand, were some hundreds 
of thousands of persons using the sea, or following 
vocations merging into the sea in the capacity of 
colliers, bargemen, boatmen, longshoremen, fisher- 
men and deep-sea sailors or merchantmen, who 
constituted the natural Naval Reserve of an Island 
Kingdom — a reserve ample, if judiciously drawn 
upon, to meet, and more than meet, the Navy's 
every need. 

The question of means was one more complicated, 
more delicate, and hence incomparably more difficult 
of solution. To draw largely upon these seafaring 
classes, numerous and fit though they were, meant 
detriment to trade, and if the Navy was the fist, 
trade was the backbone of the nation. The suffer- 

1 Ad. 7. 567— Navy Progress, 1 756-1 805. These figures are below 
rather than above the mark, since the official returns on which they 
are based are admittedly deficient. 


ings of trade, moreover, reacted unpleasantly upon 
those in power at Whitehall. Methods of procura- 
tion must therefore be devised of a nature such as 
to insure that neither trade nor Admiralty should 
suffer — that they should, in fact, enjoy what the 
unfortunate sailor never knew, some reasonable 
measure of ease. 

In its efforts to extricate itself and trade from 
the complex difficulties of the situation, Admiralty 
had at its back what an eighteenth century Beresford 
would doubtless have regarded as the finest talent 
of the service. Neither the unemployed admiral 
nor the half-pay captain had at that time, in his 
enforced retirement at Bath or Cheltenham, taken 
seriously to parliamenteering, company promoting, 
or the concocting of pedigrees as a substitute for 
walking the quarter-deck. His occupation was 
indeed gone, but in its stead there had come to 
him what he had rarely enjoyed whilst on the active 
service list — opportunity. Carried away by the 
stimulus of so unprecedented a situation as that 
afforded by the chance to make himself heard, he 
rushed into print with projects and suggestions which 
would have revolutionised the naval policy and 
defence of the country at a stroke had they been 
carried into effect. Or he devoted his leisure to 
the invention of signal codes, semaphore systems, 
embryo torpedoes, gun carriages, and — what is more 
to our point — methods ostensibly calculated to man 
the fleet in the easiest, least oppressive and most 
expeditious manner possible for a free people. 
Armed with these schemes, he bombarded the Ad- 
miralty with all the pertinacity he had shown in 


his quarter-deck days in applying for leave or 
seeking promotion. Many, perhaps most, of the 
inventions which it was thus sought to father upon 
the Sea Lords, were happily never more heard of; 
but here and there one, commending itself by its 
seeming practicability, was selected for trial and 
duly put to the test. 

Fair to look upon while still in the air, these 
fruits of leisured superannuation proved deceptively 
unsound when plucked by the hand of experiment. 
Registration, first adopted in 1696, held out un- 
deniable advantages to the seaman. Under its 
provisions he drew a yearly allowance when not 
required at sea, and extra prize-money when on 
active service. Yet the bait did not tempt him, 
and the system was soon discarded as useless and 
inoperative. Bounty, defined by some sentimentalist 
as a "bribe to Neptune," for a while made a stronger 
appeal ; but, ranging as it did from five to almost 
any number of pounds under one hundred per head, 
it proved a bribe indeed, and by putting an irresist- 
ible premium on desertion threatened to decimate 
the very ships it was intended to man. In 1795 
what was commonly known as the Quota Scheme 
superseded it. This was a plan of Pitt's devising, 
under which each county contributed to the fleet 
according to its population, the quota varying from 
one thousand and eighty-one men for Yorkshire to 
twenty-three for Rutland, whilst a minor Act levied 
special toll on seaports, London leading the way with 
five thousand seven hundred and four men. Like 
its predecessor Bounty, however, this mode of re- 
cruiting drained the Navy in order to feed it. Both 


systems, moreover, possessed another and more 
serious defect. When their initial enthusiasm had 
cooled, the counties, perhaps from force of habit as 
component parts of a country whose backbone was 
trade, bought in the cheapest market. Hence the 
Quota Man, consisting as he generally did of the 
offscourings of the merchant service, was seldom 
or never worth the money paid for him. An old 
man-o'-war's-man, picking up a miserable specimen 
of this class of recruit by the slack of his ragged 
breeches, remarked to his grinning messmates as 
he dangled the disreputable object before their 
eyes : " 'Ere's a lubber as cost a guinea a pound ! " 
He was not far out in his estimate. 

As in the case of the good old method of re- 
cruiting by beat of drum and the lure of the king's 
shilling, system after system thus failed to draw into 
its net, however speciously that net was spread, 
either the class or the number of men whose services 
it was desired to requisition. And whilst these 
futilities were working out their own condemnation 
the stormcloud of necessity grew bigger and bigger 
on the national horizon. Let trade suffer as it 
might, there was nothing for it but to discard all 
new-fangled notions and to revert to the system 
which the usage of ages had sanctioned. The 
return was imperative. Failing what Junius stigma- 
tised as the ''spur of the Press," the right men in 
the right numbers were not to be procured. The 
wisdom of the nation was at fault. It could find 
no other way. 

There were, moreover, other reasons why the 
press-gang was to the Navy an indispensable ap- 


pendage — reasons perhaps of little moment singly, 
but of tremendous weight in the scale of naval 
necessity when lumped together and taken in the 

Of these the most prominent was that fatal flaw 
in naval administration which Nelson was in the 
habit of anathematising as the " Infernal System." 
Due partly to lack of foresight and false economy 
at Whitehall, partly to the character of the sailor 
himself, it resolved itself into this, that whenever a 
ship was paid off and put out of commission, all on 
board of her, excepting only her captain and her 
lieutenants, ceased to be officially connected with 
the Navy. Now, as ships were for various reasons 
constantly going out of commission, and as the 
paying off of a first- second- or third-rate automati- 
cally discharged from their country's employ a body 
of men many hundreds in number, the ''lowering" 
effects of such a system, working year in, year out, 
upon a fleet always in chronic difficulties for men, 
may be more readily imagined than described. 

To a certain limited extent the loss to the service 
was minimised by a process called ''turning over"; 
that is to say, the company of a ship paying off was 
turned over bodily, or as nearly intact as it was 
possible to preserve it, to another ship which at the 
moment chanced to be ready, or making ready, for 
sea. Or it might be that the commander of a ship 
paying off, transferred to another ship fitting out, 
carried the best men of his late command, com- 
monly known as "old standers," along with him. 

Unfortunately, the occasion of fitting out did not 
always coincide with the occasion of paying off; and 


although turnovers were frequently made by Ad- 
miralty order, there were serious obstacles in the 
way of their becoming general. Once the men were 
paid off, the Admiralty had no further hold upon 
them. By a stretch of authority they might, it is 
true, be confined to quarters or on board a guard- 
ship ; but if in these circumstances they rose in a 
body and got ashore, they could neither be retaken 
nor punished as deserters, but — to use the good old 
service term — had to be "rose" again by means of the 
press-gang. Turnovers, accordingly, depended mainly 
upon two closely related circumstances : the good- 
will of the men, and the popularity of commanders. 
A captain who was notorious for his use of the lash 
or the irons, or who was reputed unlucky, rarely if 
ever got a turnover except by -the adoption of the 
most stringent measures. One who, on the other 
hand, treated his men with common humanity, who 
bested the enemy in fair fight and sent rich prizes 
into port, never wanted for "followers," and rarely, 
if ever, had recourse to the gang.^ Under such men 

^ In his Autobiography Lord Dundonald asserts that he was only 
once obliged to resort to pressing — a statement so remarkable, con- 
sidering the times he lived in, as to call for explanation. The occasion 
was when, returning from a year's " exile in a tub," a converted collier 
that " sailed like a hay-stack," he fitted out the Pallas at Portsmouth 
and could obtain no volunteers. Setting his gangs to work, he got 
together a scratch crew of the wretchedest description ; yet so mar- 
vellous were the personality and disciplinary ability of the man, that 
with only this unpromising material ready to his hand he intercepted 
the Spanish trade off Cape Finisterre and captured four successive 
prizes of very great value. The Pallas returned to Portsmouth with 
"three large golden candlesticks, each about five feet high, placed 
upon the mast-heads," and from that time onward Dundonald's reputa- 
tion as a " lucky " commander was made. He never again had occasion 
to invoke the aid of the gang. 


the seaman would gladly serve "even in a dung 
barge." ^ Unhappily for the service, such commanders 
were comparatively few, and in their absence the 
Infernal System drained the Navy of its best blood 
and accentuated a hundred-fold the already over- 
whelming need for the impress. 

The old-time sailor,^ again, was essentially a 
creature of contradictions. Notorious for a "swear- 
ing rogue," who punctuated his strange sea-lingo with 
horrid oaths and appalling blasphemies, he made the 
responses required by the services of his Church with 
all the superstitious awe and tender piety of a child. 
Inconspicuous for his thrift or " forehandedness," it 
was nevertheless a common circumstance with him 
to have hundreds of pounds, in pay and prize-money, 
to his credit at his bankers, the Navy Pay-Office ; 
and though during a voyage he earned his money as 
hardly as a horse, and was as poor as a church mouse, 
yet the moment he stepped ashore he made it fly by 
the handful and squandered it, as the saying went, 
like an ass. When he was sober, which was seldom 
enough provided he could obtain drink, he possessed 
scarcely a rag to his back ; but when he was drunk 
he was himself the first to acknowledge that he had 
" too many cloths in the wind." According to his 

1 Ad. I. 2733— Capt. Young, 28 Sept. 1776. 

2 The use of the word " sailor " was long regarded with disfavour 
by the Navy Board, who saw in it only a colourless substitute for the 
good old terms " seaman " and " mariner." Capt. Bertie, of the A'udy 
gunship, once reported the pressing of a "sailor," Thomas Letting by 
name, out of a collier in Yarmouth Roads, and was called upon by 
My Lords to define the new-fangled term. This he did with admirable 
circumlocution. " As for explaining the word ' sailor,' " said he, " I can 
doe it no otherwise than (by) letting of you know that Thomas Letting 
is a Sailor."— ^^. i. 1468— Capt. Bertie, 6 May 1706. 


own showing, his wishes in life were limited to 
three : '* An island of tobacco, a river of rum, and 
— more rum ; " but according to those who knew him 
better than he knew himself, he would at any time 
sacrifice all three, together with everything else he 
possessed, for the gratification of a fourth and un- 
confessed desire, the dearest wish of his life, woman. 
Ward's description of him, slightly paraphrased, fits 
him to a hair : *' A salt-water vagabond, who is never 
at home but when he is at sea, and never contented 
but when he is ashore ; never at ease until he has 
drawn his pay, and never satisfied until he has spent 
it ; and when his pocket is empty he is just as much 
respected as a father-in-law is when he has beggared 
himself to give a good portion with his daughter."^ 
With all this he was brave beyond belief on the deck 
of a ship, timid to the point of cowardice on the back 
of a horse ; and although he fought to a victorious 
finish many of his country's most desperate fights, 
and did more than any other man of his time to make 
her the great nation she became, yet his roving life 
robbed him of his patriotism and made it necessary 
to wring from him by violent means the allegiance 
he shirked. It was at this point that he came in 
contact with what he hated most in life, yet dearly 
loved to dodge — the press-gang. 

That such a creature of contradictions should be 
averse from serving the country he loved is perhaps 
the most consistent trait in his character ; for here at 
least the sailor had substantial grounds for his in- 

For one thing, his aversion to naval service was 

^ Ward, Woodefi World Dissected^ 1 744. 


as old as the Navy itself, having grown with its 
growth. We have seen in what manner King John 
was obliged to admonish the sailor in order to induce 
him to take his prest-money ; and Edward iii., re- 
ferring to his attitute in the fourteenth century, is said to 
have summed up the situation in the pregnant words : 
" There is navy enough in England, were there only 
the will." Raleigh, recalling with bitterness of soul 
those glorious Elizabethan days when no adventurer 
ever dreamt of pressing, scoffed at the seamen of 
King James's time as degenerates who went on board 
a man-of-war " with as great a grudging as if it were 
to be slaves in the galleys." A hundred years did 
not improve matters. The sailors of Queen Anne 
entered her ships like men ''dragged to execution."^ 
In the merchant service, where the sailor received 
his initiation into the art and mystery of the sea, life 
during the period under review, and indeed for long 
after, was hard enough in all conscience. Systematic 
and unspeakably inhuman brutality made the merchant 
seaman's lot a daily inferno. Traders sailing out of 
Liverpool, Bristol and a score of other British ports 
depended almost entirely for their crews upon drugged 
rum, so evil was their reputation in this respect 
amongst seafaring men. In the East India Company's 
ships, even, the conditions were little short of unen- 
durable. Men had rather be hanged than sail to the 
Indies in them.^ 

Of all these bitternesses the sailor tasted freely. 

* Justice, Dominion and Laws of the Sea, 1705, Appendix on 

2 Ad. I. 1463, 1472— Letters of Captains Bouler and Billingsley, 
and numerous instances. 


Cosmopolite that he was, he wandered far a-sea and 
incurred the blows and curses of many masters, happy 
if, amid his manifold tribulations, he could still call his 
soul his own. Just here, indeed, was where the shoe 
of naval service pinched him most sorely ; for though 
upon the whole life on board a man-of-war was not 
many shades worse than life aboard a trader, it yet 
introduced into his already sadly circumscribed vista 
of happiness the additional element of absolute loss of 
free-will, and the additional dangers of being shot as 
an enemy or hanged as a deserter. These additional 
things, the littles that yet meant so much, bred in him 
a hatred of the service so implacable that nothing less 
drastic than the warrant and the hanger could cope 
with or subdue it. Eradicated it never was. 

The keynote to the sailor's treatment in the Navy 
may be said to have been profane abuse. Officers of 
all ranks kept the Recording Angel fearfully busy. 
With scarcely an exception they were men of blunt 
speech and rough tongue who never hesitated to call 
a spade a spade, and the ordinary seaman something 
many degrees worse. These were technicalities of the 
service which had neither use nor meaning elsewhere. 
But to the navigation of the ship, to daily routine and 
the maintenance of that exact discipline on which the 
Navy prided itself, they were as essential as is milk to 
the making of cheese. Nothing could be done without 
them. Decent language was thrown away upon a set 
of fellows who had been bred in that very shambles of 
language, the merchant marine. To them *' 'twas just 
all the same as High Dutch." They neither understood 
it nor appreciated its force. But a volley of thumping 
oaths, bellowed at them from the brazen throat of a 


speaking-trumpet, and freely interlarded with adjec- 
tives expressive of the foulness of their persons, and 
the ultimate state and destination of their eyes and 
limbs, saved the situation and sometimes the ship. 
Officers addicted to this necessary flow of language 
were sensible of only one restraint Visiting parties 
caused them embarrassment, and when this was the 
case they fell back upon the tactics of the commander 
who, unable to express himself with his usual fluency 
because of the presence of ladies on the quarter- 
deck, hailed the foreyard-arm in some such terms as 
these : " Foreyard-arm there ! God bless you ! God 
bless you ! God bless you ! You know what I 
mean I " 

Hard words break no bones, and to quarter-deck 
language, as such, the sailor entertained no rooted 
objection. What he did object to, and object to with 
all the dogged insistence of his nature, was the fact 
that this habitual flow of profane scurrility was only 
the prelude to what, with grim pleasantry, he was ac- 
customed to describe as "serving out slops." Any- 
thing intended to cover his back was "slops" to the 
sailor, and the punishments meted out to him covered 
him like a garment. 

The old code of naval laws, the Monumenta 
Juridica or Black Book of the Admiralty, contained 
many curious disciplinary methods, not a few of which 
too long survived the age they originated in. If, for 
instance, one sailor robbed another and was found 
guilty of the crime, boiling pitch was poured over his 
head and he was powdered with feathers "to mark 
him," after which he was marooned on the first island 
the ship fell in with. Seamen guilty of undressing 


themselves while at sea were ducked three times from 
the yard-arm — a more humane use of that spar than 
converting it into a gallows. On this code were based 
Admiral the Earl of Lindsay's " Instructions" of 1695. 
These included ducking, keel-hauling, fasting, flogging, 
weighting until the ** heart or back be ready to break," 
and "gogging" or scraping the tongue with.hoop-iron 
for obscene or profane swearing ; for although the 
** gentlemen of the quarter-deck " might swear to their 
heart's content, that form of recreation was strictly 
taboo in other parts of the ship. Here we have the 
origin of the brutal discipline of the next century, 
summed up in the Consolidation Act of George 11.^ — 
an Act wherein ten out of thirty-six articles awarded 
capital punishment without option, and twelve death 
or minor penalties. 

Of the latter, the one most commonly in use was 
flogging at the gangway or jears. This duty fell to 
the lot of the boatswain's mate.^ The instrument 
employed was the cat-o'-nine-tails, the regulation dose 
twelve lashes ; but since the actual number was left to 
the captain's discretion or malice, as the case might 
be, it not infrequently ran into three figures. Thus 
John Watts, able seaman on board H.M.S. Harwich, 
Capt. Andrew Douglas commander, in 1704 received 
one hundred and seventy lashes for striking a ship- 
mate in self-defence, his captain meanwhile standing 
by and exhorting the boatswain's mate to " Swinge 
the Dog, for hee has a Tough Hide" — and 

^ 22 George ii. c. 33. ^ 

"^ "As it is the Custom of the Army to punish with the Drums, so it 
is the known Practice of the Navy to punish with the Boatswain's Mate." 
— Ad. I. 1482 — Capt. (afterwards Admiral) Boscawen, 25 Feb. 1746-7. 


that, too, with a cat waxed to make it bite the 

It was just this unearned increment of blows — this 
dash of bitter added to the regulation cup — that made 
Jack's gorge rise. He was not the sort of chap, it 
must be confessed, to be ruled with a feather. " An 
impudent rascal " at the best of times, he often 
"deserved a great deal and had but little."^ But 
unmerited punishment, too often devilishly devised, 
maliciously inflicted and inhumanly carried out, broke 
the back of his sense of justice, already sadly over- 
strained, and inspired him with a mortal hatred of all 
things naval. 

For the slightest offence he was *' drubbed at the 
gears"; for serious offences, from ship to ship. If, 
when reefing topsails on a dark night or in the teeth 
of a sudden squall, he did not handle the canvas with 
all the celerity desired by the officer of the watch, he 
and his fellow yardsmen were flogged en bloc. He 
was made to run the gauntlet, often with the blood 
gushing from nose and ears as the result of a 
previous dose of the cat, until he fell to the deck 
comatose and at the point of death.^ Logs of wood 
were bound to his legs as shackles, and whatever the 
nature of his offence, he invariably began his expiation 
of it, the preliminary canter, so to speak, in irons. If 
he had a lame leg or a bad foot, he was ** started" 
with a rope's-end as a ''slacker." If he happened to 
be the last to tumble up when his watch was called, 

1 Ad. I. 5265— Courts-Martial, 1704-5. 

2 Ad. I. 1472 — Capt. Balchen, 26 Jan 1716-7. 

^ Ad. I. 1466 — Complaint of y^ Abuse of a Sayler in the Litchfield^ 
1704. In this case the man actually died. 


the rattan^ raised weals on his back or drew blood 
from his head ; and, as if to add insult to injury, for 
any of these, and a hundred and one other offences, he 
was liable to be black-listed and to lose his allowance 
of grog. 

Some things, too, were reckoned sins aboard ship 
which, unhappily for the sailor, could not well be 
avoided. Laughing, or even permitting the features 
to relax in a smile in the official presence, was such a 
sin. " He beats us for laughing," declare the company 
of the Solebay, in a complaint against their commander, 
*' more like Doggs than Men."^ One of the Nymph's 
company, in or about the year 1797, received three 
dozen for what was officially termed " Silent Con- 
tempt" — ** which was nothing more than this, that 
when flogged by the boatswain's mate the man 
smiled."^ This was the "Unpardonable Crime" of 
the service. 

Contrariwise, a man was beaten if he sulked. And 
as a rule the sailor was sulky enough. Works of 
supererogation, such as polishing everything polish- 
able — the shot for the guns, in extreme cases, not 
even excepted — until it shone like the tropical sun at 
noonday, left him little leisure or inclination for mirth. 
"Very pretty to look at," said Wellington, when con- 
fronted with these glaring evidences of hyper-discipline, 
" but there is one thing wanting. I have not seen a 
bright face in the ship." 

A painful tale of discipline run mad, or nearly so, 
is unfolded by that fascinating series of sailor-records, 

^ Carried at one time by both commissioned and warrant officers. 
^ Ad. I. 1435— Capt. Aldred, 29 Feb. 1703-4. 
^ Ad. I. 5125 — Petitions, 1793-7. 



the Admiralty Petitions. Many of them, it must in 
justice be owned, bear unqualified testimony to the 
kindness and humanity of officers ; but in the great 
majority of cases the evidence they adduce is over- 
whelmingly to the contrary. And if their language is 
sometimes bombastic, if their style is almost uniformly 
illiterate, if they are the productions of a band of 
mutinous dogs standing out for rights which they 
never possessed and deserving of a halter rather than 
a hearing, these are circumstances that do not in the 
least detract from the veracity of the allegations they 
advance. The sailor appealed to his king, or to the 
Admiralty, ''the same as a child to its father"; and 
no one who peruses the story of his wrongs, as 
set forth in these documents, can doubt for a 
moment that he speaks the truth with all a child's 

The seamen of the Reunion open the tale of 
oppression and ill-usage. " Our Captain oblidges us 
to Wash our Linnen twice a week in Salt Water and 
to put 2 Shirts on every Week, and if they do not 
look as Clean as if they were washed in Fresh Water, 
he stops the person's Grog which has the misfortune 
to displease him ; and if our Hair is not Tyd to please 
him, he orders it to be Cutt Off" On the Amphitrite 
"flogging is their portion." The men of the 
Winchelsea " wold sooner be Shot at like a Targaite 
than to Remain." The treatment systematically 
meted out to the Shannons crew is more than the 
heart "can Cleaverly Bear" — enough, in short, to 
make them "rise and Steer the Ship into an Enemies 
Port." The seamen of the Glory are made wretched 
by " beating, blacking, tarring, putting our heads in 


Bags," and by being forced to " drink half a Gallon of 
Salt Water " for the most trivial breaches of discipline 
or decorum. On the Blanch, if they get wet and 
hang or spread their clothes to dry, the captain ''thros 
them overboard." The Nassau s company find it 
impossible to put the abuse they receive on paper. It 
is ** above Humanity." Though put on board to fight 
for king and country, they are used worse than dogs. 
They have no encouragement to ''face the Enemy 
with a chearful Heart." Besides being kept ''more 
like Convicts than free-born Britons," the Nymph's 
company have an unspeakable grievance. "When 
Engaged with the Enemy off Brest, March the 9th, 
1797, they even Beat us at our Quarters, though on 
the Verge of Eternity." ^ 

On the principle advanced by Rochefoucault, that 
there is something not displeasing to us in the mis- 
fortunes of our friends, the sailor doubtless derived 
a sort of negative satisfaction from the fact that he 
was not the only one on shipboard liable to the pains 
and penalties of irascibility, brutality and excessive 
disciplinary zeal. Particularly was this true of his 
special friend the " sky-pilot" or chaplain, that super- 
person who perhaps most often fell a victim to 
quarter-deck ebullitions. Notably there is on record 
the case of one John Cruickshank, chaplain of 
H.M.S. Assurance, who was clapped in irons, court- 
martialled and dismissed the service merely because 
he happened to take — what no sailor could ever 
condemn him for — a drop too much, and whilst in 
that condition insisted on preaching to the ship's 
company when they were on the very point of going 

^ Ad. I. 5125 — Petitions, 1793-7. 


into action.^ There is also that other case of the 
"saucy Surgeon of the Seahorse,'' who incurred his 
captain's dire displeasure all on account of candles, of 
which necessary articles he, having his wife on board, 
thought himself entitled to a more liberal share than 
was consistent with strict naval economy ; and who 
was, moreover, so " troblesome about his Provisions, 
that if he did not always Chuse out of y^ best in y* 
whole Ship," he straightway got his back up and 
" threatened to Murder the Steward."^ Such inter- 
ludes as these would assuredly have proved highly 
diverting to the foremast-man had it not been for the 
cat and that savage litter of minor punishments await- 
ing the man who smiled. 

In the matter of provisions, there can be little 
doubt that the sailor shared to the full the desire 
evinced by the surgeon of the Seahorse to take blood- 
vengeance upon someone on account of them. His 
" belly-timber," as old Misson so aptly if indelicately 
describes it, was mostly worm-eaten or rotten, his 
drink indescribably nasty. 

Charles ii. is said to have made his breakfast off 
ship's diet the morning he left the Naseby, and to 
have pronounced it good ; and Nelson in 1803 declared 
it ''could not possibly be improved upon."* Such, 
however, was not the opinion of the chaplain of the 
Dartmouth, for after dining with his captain on an 
occasion which deserves to become historic, he swore 
that " although he liked that Sort of Living very well, 

^ Ad. I. 5265 — Courts-Martial, 1704-5. His zeal was unusual. Most 
naval chaplains thought " of nothing more than making His Majesty's 
ships sinecures." 

^ Ad. I. 1470 — Capt. Blowers, 3 Jan. 1710-11. 

^ Ad. I. 580 — Memorandum on the State of the Fleet, 1803. 


as for the King's Allowance there was but a Sheat of 
Browne Paper between it and Hell."^ Which of 
these opinions came nearest to the truth, the sequel 
will serve to show. 

On the face of it the sailor's dietary was not so 
bad. A ship's stores, in 17 19, included ostensibly such 
items as bread, wine, beef, pork, peas, oatmeal, butter, 
cheese, water and beer, and if Jack had but had his 
fair share of these commodities, and had it in decent 
condition, he would have had little reason to grumble 
about the king's allowance. Unhappily for him, the 
humanities of diet were little studied by the Victualling 

Taking the beef, the staple article of consumption 
on shipboard, cooking caused it to shrink as much as 
45 per cent., thus reducing the sailor's allowance by 
nearly one-half.^ The residuum was often " mere 
carrion," totally unfit for human consumption. " Junk," 
the sailor contemptuously called it, likening it, in 
point of texture, digestibility and nutritive properties, 
to the product of picked oakum, which it in many 
respects strongly resembled. The pork, though it lost 
less in the cooking, was rancid, putrid stuff, repellent 
in odour and colour — particulars in which it found 
close competitors in the butter and cheese, which had 
often to be thrown overboard because they ''stunk 
the ship." ^ The peas ''would not break." Boiled for 

^ Ad. I. 1464 — Misdemenors Comited by Mr Edw^^ Lewis, Chapling 
on Board H. M. Shipp Dartm°, i Oct. 1702. 

^ Ad. I. 1495— Capt. Barrington, 23 Dec. 1770. 

^ To disinfect a ship after she had been fouled by putrid rations or 
disease, burning sulphur and vinegar were commonly employed. Their 
use was preferable to the means adopted by the carpenter of the 
Feversham, who in order to "sweeten ship" once "turn'd on the cock in 
the hould" and through forgetfulness "left it running for eighteen 


eight hours on end, they came through the ordeal 
** almost as hard as shott." Only the biscuit, apart 
from the butter and cheese, possessed the quality of 
softness. Damp, sea-water, mildew and weevil con- 
verted "hard" into ''soft tack" and added another 
horror to the sailor's mess. The water he washed 
these varied abominations down with was frequently 
"stuff that beasts would cough at." His beer was no 
better. It would not keep, and was in consequence 
both ''stinking and sour."^ Although the contractor 
was obliged to make oath that he had used both malt 
and hops in the brewing, it often consisted of nothing 
more stimulating than "water coloured and bittered," 
and sometimes the "stingy dog of a brewer" even 
went so far as to omit the "wormwood." 

Such a dietary as this made a meal only an un- 
avoidable part of the day's punishment and inspired 
the sailor with profound loathing. " Good Eating is an 
infallible Antidote against murmuring, as many a Big- 
Belly Place-Man can instance," he says in one of his 
petitions. Poor fellow ! his opportunities of putting it 
to the test were few enough. On Mondays, Wednes- 
days and Fridays, the so-called Banyan days of the 
service, when his hateful ration of meat was withheld 
and in its stead he regaled himself on plum-duff — the 
"plums," according to an old regulation, "not worse 
than Malaga"— he had a taste of it. Hence the 
banyan day, though in reality a fast-day, became in- 
delibly associated in his simple mind and vocabulary 

howers," thereby not only endangering the vessel's safety, but inci- 
dentally spoiling twenty-one barrels of powder in the magazine.— ^^. 
I. 2653— Capt. Watson, 18 April 1741. 

1 According to Raleigh, old oil and fish casks were used for the 
storing of ship's beer in Elizabeth's reign. 


with occasions of feasting and plenty, and so remains 
to this day. 

If the sailor's only delicacy was duff, his only 
comforts were rum and tobacco, and to explore some 
unknown island, and discover therein a goodly river of 
the famous Jamaica spirit, flowing deep and fragrant 
between towering mountains of " pig tail," is commonly 
reputed to have been the cherished wish of his heart. 
With tobacco the Navy Board did not provide him, 
nor afford dishonest pursers opportunity to " make 
dead men chew," ^ until 1798; but rum they allowed 
him at a comparatively early date. When sickness 
prevailed on board, when beer ran short or had to be 
turned over the side to preserve a sweet ship, rum or 
wine was issued, and although the Admiralty at first 
looked askance at the innovation, and at times left 
commanders of ships to foot the bill for spirits thus 
served out, the practice made gradual headway, until 
at length it ousted beer altogether and received the 
stamp of official approval. Half a pint, dealt out each 
morning and evening in equal portions, was the 
regular allowance — a quantity often doubled were the 
weather unusually severe or the men engaged in the 
arduous duty of watering ship. At first the ration of 
rum was served neat and appreciated accordingly ; 
but about 1740 the practice of adding water was 
introduced. This was Admiral Vernon's doing. 
Vernon was best known to his men as ''Old Grog," 
a nickname originating in a famous grogram coat he 

^ Said of pursers who manipulated the Muster Books, which it was 
part of their duty to keep, in such a way as to make it appear that men 
"discharged dead" had drawn a larger quantity of tobacco than was 
actually the case, the difference in value of course going into their own 


affected in dirty weather ; and as the rum and water 
now served out to them was little to their liking, they 
marked their disapproval of the mixture, as well as of 
the man who invented it, by dubbing it *'grog." The 
sailor was not without his sense of humour. 

The worst feature of rum, from the sailor's point 
of view, worse by far than dilution, was the fact that 
it could be so easily stopped. Here his partiality for 
the spirit told heavily against him. His grog was 
stopped because he liked it, rather than because he 
deserved to lose it. The malice of the thing did not 
make for a contented ship. 

The life of the man-o'-war's-man, according to 
Lord Nelson, was on an average '* finished at forty- 
five years." ^ Bad food and strenuous labour under 
exceptionally trying conditions sapped his vitals, made 
him prematurely old, and exposed him to a host of 
ills peculiar to his vocation. He ''fell down daily," 
to employ the old formula, in spotted or putrid fevers. 
He was racked by agues, distorted by rheumatic 
pains, ruptured or double-ruptured by the strain of 
pulling, hauling and lifting heavy weights. He ate 
no meal without incurring the pangs of acute 
indigestion, to which he was fearfully subject. He 
was liable to a "prodigious inflammation of the head, 
nose and eyes," occasioned by exposure. Scurvy, 
his most inveterate and merciless enemy, ''beat up" 
for him on every voyage and dragged his brine-sodden 
body down to a lingering death. Or, did he escape 
these dangers and a watery grave, protracted disease 
sooner or later rendered him helpless, or a brush with 
the enemy disabled him for ever from earning his bread. 

^ Ad. I. 580— Memorandum on the State of the Fleet, 1803. 


His surgeons were, as a rule, a sorry lot. Not 
only were they deficient in numbers, they commonly 
lacked both professional training and skill. Their 
methods were consequently of the crudest description, 
and long continued so. The approved treatment for 
rupture, to which the sailor was painfully liable, was 
to hang the patient up by the heels until the prolapsus 
was reduced. Pepys relates how he met a seaman 
returning from fighting the Dutch with his eye-socket 
** stopped with oakum," and as late at least as the 
Battle of Trafalgar it "was customary, in amputations, 
to treat the bleeding stump with boiling pitch as a 
cauterant. In his general attitude towards the sick 
and wounded the old-time naval surgeon was not un- 
like Garth, Queen Anne's famous physician. At the 
Kit Cat Club he one day sat so long over his wine 
that Steele ventured to remind him of his patients. 
" No matter," said Garth. '* Nine have such bad con- 
stitutions that no physician can save them, and the 
other six such good ones that all the physicans in the 
world could not kill them." 

Many were the devices resorted to in order to 
keep the man-o*-war's-man healthy and fit. As early 
as 1602 a magic electuary, invented by one ''Doctor 
Cogbourne, fstmous for fluxes," was by direction of 
the Navy Commissioners supplied for his use in the 
West Indies.^ By Admiral Vernon and his com- 
manders he was dosed freely with "Elixir of Vitriol," 
which they not only ''reckoned the best general 
medicine next to rhubarb," but pinned their faith to 
as a sovereign specific for scurvy and fevers.^ Lime- 

^ Ad. I. 1464— Capt. Barker, 14 Oct. 1702. 
^ Ad. I. 161 — Admiral Vernon, 31 Oct. 1741. 


juice, known as a valuable anti-scorbutic as early 
as the days of Drake and Raleigh, was not added to 
his rations till 1 795. He did not find it very palatable. 
The secret of fortifying it was unknown, and oil had 
to be floated on its surface to make it keep. Sour- 
crout was much more to his taste as a preventive of 
scurvy, and in 1777, at the request of Admiral 
Montagu, then Governor and Commander-in-Chief 
over the Island of Newfoundland, the Admiralty 
caused to be sent out, for the use of the squadron on 
that station, where vegetables were unprocurable, 
a sufficient quantity of that succulent preparation to 
supply twelve hundred men for a period of two 

Rice the sailor detested. Of all species of "soft 
tack" it was least to his liking. He nicknamed it 
**strike-me-blind," being firmly convinced that its 
continued use would rob him of his eyesight. Tea 
was not added to his dietary till 1824, but as early as 
1795 he could regale himself on cocoa. For the rest, 
sugar, essence of malt, essence of spruce, mustard, 
cloves, opium and ** Jesuits'" or Peruvian bark were 
considered essential to his well-being on shipboard. 
He was further allowed a barber — one to every 
hundred men — without whose attentions it was found 
impossible to keep him ''clean and healthy." 

With books he was for many years ''very 
scantily supplied." It was not till 181 2, indeed, that 
the Admiralty, shocked by the discovery that he had 
practically nothing to elevate his mind but daily 
association with the quarter-deck, began to pour into 
the fleet copious supplies of literature for his use. 

^ Ad. I. 471 — Admiral Montagu, 28 Feb. 1777, and endorsement. 


Thereafter the sailor could beguile his leisure with 
such books as the Old Chaplains Farewell Letter, 
Wilson's Maxims, The Whole Duty of Man, Seeker's 
Duties of the Sick, and, lest returning health should 
dissipate the piety begotten of his ailments, Gibson's 
Advice after Sickness. Thousands of pounds were 
spent upon this improving literature, which was dis- 
tributed to the fleet in strict accordance with the amount 
of storage room available at the various dockyards/ 

A fundamental principle of man-o'-war routine was 
that the sailor formed no part of it for hospital 
purposes. Hence sickness was not encouraged. If 
the sailor-patient did not recover within a reason- 
able time, he was ''put on shore sick," sometimes to 
the great terror of the populace, who, were he supposed 
to be afflicted with an infectious disease, fled from 
him "as if he had the plague."^ On shore he was 
treated for thirty days at his country's charges. If 
incurable, or permanently disabled, he was then turned 
adrift and left to shift for himself. A clean record 
and a sufficiently serious wound entitled him to 
a small pension or admission to Greenwich Hospital, 
an institution which had religiously docked his small 
pay of sixpence a month throughout his entire service. 
Failing these, there remained for him only the streets 
and the beggar's role. 

His pay was far from princely. From 3d. a 
day in the reign of King John it rose by grudging 
increments to 20s. a month in 1626, and 24s. in 
1797. Years sometimes elapsed before he touched 

^ Ad. Accountant-General, Misc. (Various), No io6 — Accounts of 
the Rev. Archdeacon Owen, Chaplain-General to the Fleet, 1 812-7. 
2 Ad. I. 2732— Capt. Young, 24 June 1740. 


a penny of his earnings, except in the form of " slop " 
clothing and tobacco. Amongst the instances of 
deferred wages in which the Admiralty records abound, 
there may be cited the case of the Dreadnought, 
whose men in 1 7 1 1 had four years' pay due ; and 
of the Dunkirk, to whose company, in the year 
following, six and a half years' was owing.^ And at 
the time of the Nore Mutiny it was authoritatively 
stated that there were ships then in the fleet which 
had not been paid off for eight, ten, twelve and in 
one instance even fifteen years. " Keep the pay, 
keep the man," was the policy of the century — a sadly 
mistaken policy, as we shall presently see. 

In another important article of contentment the 
sailor was hardly better off. The system of deferred 
pay amounted practically to a stoppage of all leave 
for the period, however protracted, during which the 
pay was withheld. Thus the Monmouth's men had 
in 1706 been in the ship "almost six years, and had 
never had the opportunity of seeing their families but 
once."^ In Bosca wen's ship, the Dreadnought, there 
were in 1744 two hundred and fifty men who ''had 
not set foot on shore near two year." Admiral 
Penrose once paid off in a seventy-four at Plymouth, 
many of whose crew had " never set foot on land for 
six or seven years " ; ^ and Brenton, in his Naval 
History, instances the case of a ship whose company, 
after having been eleven years in the East Indies, on 
returning to England were drafted straightway into 

1 Ad. I. 1470— Capt. Bennett, 8 March 1710-11. Ad. i. 1471 — 
Capt. Butler, 19 March, 1711-12. 

2 Ad. I. 1468— Capt. Baker, 3 Nov. 1706. 

* Penrose (Sir V. C, Vice-Admiral of the Blue), Observations on 
Corporeal Punishment, Impressment, etc., 1824. 


another ship and sent back to that quarter of the 
globe without so much as an hour's leave ashore. 

What was true of pay and leave was also true 
of prize-money. The sailor was systematically kept 
out of it, and hence out of the means of enjoyment 
and carousal it afforded him, for inconscionable periods. 
From a moral point of view the check was hardly 
to his detriment. But the Navy was not a school 
of morals, and withholding the sailor's hard-earned 
prize-money over an indefinite term of years neither 
made for a contented heart nor enhanced his love for 
a service that first absorbed him against his will, and 
then, having got him in its clutches, imposed upon 
and bested him at every turn. 

Athough the prime object in withholding his pay 
was to prevent his running from his ship, so far from 
compassing that desirable end it had exactly the 
contrary effect. Both the preventive and the disease 
were of long standing. With De Ruyter in the 
Thames in 1667, menacing London and the kingdom, 
the seamen of the fleet flocked to town in hundreds, 
clamouring for their wages, whilst their wives besieged 
the Navy Office in Seething Lane, shrieking : " This 
is what comes of not paying our husbands ! " 

Essentially a creature of contradictions, the sailor 
rarely, if he could avoid it, steered the course laid 
down for him, and in nothing perhaps was this 
idiosyncrasy so glaringly apparent as in his behaviour 
as his country's creditor. He '* would get to London 
if he could." ^ '* An unaccountable humour" impelled 
him "to quit His Majesty's service without leave." ^ 

^ Ad. I. 2732— Capt. Young, 12 Dec. 1742. 

2 Ad. I. 480— Shirley, Governor of Massachusetts, 12 Sept. 1746. 


Once the whim seized him, no ties of deferred pay or 
prize-money had power to hold him back. The one 
he could obtain on conditions ; the other he could 
dispose of at a discount which, though ruinously 
heavy, still left him enough to frolic on. 

The weapon of deferred pay was thus a two-edged 
one. If it hurt the sailor, it also cut the fingers of 
those who employed it against him. So exigent 
were the needs of the service, he could "run" with 
impunity. For if he ran whilst his pay was in arrears, 
he did so with the full knowledge that, barring 
untimely recapture by the press-gang, he would 
receive a free pardon, together with payment of all 
dues, on the sole condition, which he never kept if he 
could help it, of returning to his ship when his money 
was gone. He therefore deserted for two reasons : 
First, to obtain his pay ; second, to spend it. 

The penalty for desertion, under a well-known 
statute of George i.,^ was death by hanging. As time 
went on, however, discipline in this respect suffered 
a grave relapse, and fear of the halter no longer served 
to check the continual exodus from the fleet. If the 
runaway sailor were taken, *' it would only be a whip- 
ping bout." So he openly boasted.^ The "bout," 
it is true, at times ran to si::, or even seven hundred 
lashes — the latter being the heaviest dose of the cat 
ever administered in the British navy ; ^ but even 
this terrible ordeal had no power to hold the sailor to 
his duty, and although Admiral Lord St. Vincent, 
better known in his day as "hanging Jervis," did his 

^13 George i., art. 7. 

2 Ad. I. 1479 — Capt. Boscawen, 26 April 1743. 

^ Ad. I. 482 — Admiral Lord Colvill, 12 Nov. 1765. 


utmost to revive the ancient custom of stretching the 
sailor's neck, the trend of the times was against him, 
and within twenty-five years of the reaffirming of 
the penalty, in the 22 nd year of George 11., hanging 
for desertion had become practically obsolete. 

In the declining days of the practice a grim game 
at life and death was played upon the deck of a king's 
ship lying in the River St. Lawrence. The year was 
1760. Quebec had only recently fallen before the 
British onslaught. A few days before that event, at 
a juncture when every man in the squadron was 
counted upon to play his part in the coming struggle, 
and to play it well, three seamen, James Mike, 
Thomas Wilkinson and William M'Millard by name, 
deserted from the Vangtmrd. Retaken some months 
later, they were brought to trial ; but as men were 
not easy to replace in that latitude, the court, whilst 
sentencing all three to suffer the extreme penalty of 
the law, added to their verdict a rider to the effect 
that it would be good policy to spare two of them. 
Admiral Lord Colvill, then Commander-in-Chief, 
issued his orders accordingly, and at eleven o'clock 
on the morning of the i2tii of July the condemned 
men, preceded to the scaffold by two chaplains, were 
led to the Vanguard's forecastle, where they drew lots 
to determine which of them should die. The fatal lot 
fell to James Mike, who, in presence of the assembled 
boats of the squadron, was immediately *' turned off " 
at the foreyard-arm.^ 

Encouraged in this grim fashion, desertion assumed 
alarming proportions. Nelson estimated that when- 

^ Ad. I. 482 — Admiral Lord Colvill, lo July 1760; Captains' Logs, 
1026 — Log of H.M.S, Vanguard, 


ever a large convoy of merchant ships assembled at 
Portsmouth, at least a thousand men deserted from 
the fleet.^ This was a " liberty they would take," do 
what you could to prevent it. 

Of those who thus deserted fully one-third, accord- 
ing to the same high authority, never saw the fleet 
again. " From loss of clothes, drinking and other 
debaucheries" they were "lost by death to the 
country." Some few of the remainder, after drinking 
His Majesty's health in a final bowl, voluntarily 
returned on board and ** prayed for a fair wind " ; but 
the majority held aloof, taking their chances and their 
pleasures in sailorly fashion until, their last stiver gone, 
they fell an easy prey to the press-gang or the crimp. 

While the crimp was to the merchant service what 
the press-gang was to the Navy, a kind of universal 
provider, there was in his method of preying upon the 
sailor a radical difference. Like his French compeer, 
the recruiting sergeant of the Pont Neuf in the days 
of Louis the Well-Beloved, wherever sailors congre- 
gated the crimp might be heard rattling his money- 
bags and crying: ''Who wants any? Who wants 
any .'* " Where the press-gang used the hanger or the 
cudgel, the crimp employed dollars. The circumstance 
gave him a decided "pull " in the contest for men, for 
the dollars he offered, whether in the way of pay or 
bounty, were invariably fortified with rum. The two 
formed a contraption no sailor could resist. " Money 
and liquor held out to a seaman," said Nelson, "are 
too much for him." 

In law the offence of enticing seamen to desert 
His Majesty's service, like desertion itself, was punish- 

1 Ad. I. 580 — Memorandum on the State of the Fleet, 1803. 


able with death ; ^ but in fact the penalty was either 
commuted to imprisonment, or the offender was dealt 
with summarily, without invoking the law. Crimps 
who were caught red-handed had short shrift. Two of 
the fraternity, named respectively Henry Nathan and 
Sampson Samuel, were once taken in the Downs. 
** Send Nathan and Samuel," ran the Admiralty 
order in their case, " to Plymouth by the first con- 
veyance. Admiral Young is to order them on board 
a ship going on foreign service as soon as possible." 
Another time an officer, boarding a boat filled with 
men as it was making for an Indiaman at Gravesend, 
found in her six crimps, all of whom suffered the 
same fate.^ 

Men seduced by means of crimpage bounty were 
said to be ** silver cooped," and the art of silver coop- 
ing was not only practised at home, it was world-wide. 
In whatever waters a British man-o'-war cast anchor, 
there the crimp appeared, plying his crafty trade. 
His assiduity paid a high compliment to the sterling 
qualities of the British seaman, but for the Navy it 
spelt wholesale depletion. 

In home ports he was everywhere in evidence. 
No ship of war could lie in Leith Roads but she lost 
a good part of her crew through his seductions. 
"M'Kirdy & M'Lean, petty-fogging writers," were 
the chief crimps at Greenock. Sheerness crimps 
gave ** great advance money." Liverpool was infested 
with them, all the leading merchant shippers at Bristol, 
London and other great ports having '' agents " there, 

^ 22 George n. cap. 33. 

^ Ad. I. 1542— Capt. Bazeley, 7 Feb. 1808. Ad. i. 1513— Capt. 
Bowater, 12 June 1796. 


who offered the man-o'-war's-man tempting bounties 
and substantial wages to induce him to desert his 
ship. A specially active agent of Bristol shipowners 
was one Vernon Ley, who plied his trade chiefly at 
Exeter and Plymouth, whence he was known to send 
to Bristol, in the space of six months, as many as 
seventy or eighty men, whom he provided with post- 
chaises for the journey and £S per man as bounty. 
James White, a publican who kept the " Pail of Barm " 
at Bedminster, made a close second in his activity and 
success. Spithead had its regular contingent of crimps, 
and many an East India ship sailing from that famous 
anchorage was ** entirely manned" by their efforts, of 
course at the expense of the ships of war lying there. 
At Chatham, crimpage bounty varied from fifteen to 
twenty guineas per head ; and at Cork, a favourite 
recruiting ground for both merchantmen and privateers, 
the same sum could be had any day, with high wages 
to boot. 

In the Crown Colonies a sifhilar state of things 
prevailed. Queen's ships visiting Jamaica in or about 
the year 17 16 lost so heavily they scarce dared venture 
the return voyage to England, their men having 
''gone a-wrecking " in the Gulf of Florida, where one 
armed sloop was reputed to have recovered Spanish 
treasure to the value of a hundred thousand dollars.^ 
Time did not lessen desertion in the island, though 
it wrought a change in the cause. When Admiral 
Vernon was Commander-in-Chief there in the forties, 
he lost five hundred men within a comparatively short 
time — "seduced out," to use his own words, ''through 
the temptations of high wages and thirty gallons of 
1 Ad. I. 1471— Capt. Balchen, 13 May 17 16. 


rum, and conveyed drunk on board from the punch- 
houses where they are seduced."^ 

At Louisberg, in the Island of Cape Breton, the 
North American Squadron in 1746 lost so many men 
through the seductions practised by New England 
skippers frequenting that port, that Townsend, the 
admiral in command, indited a strongly worded protest 
to Shirley, then Governor of Massachusetts ; but the 
latter, though deploring the " vile behaviour " of the 
skippers in question, could do nothing to put a stop 
to it.^ As a matter of fact he did not try. 

On the coast of Carolina many of the English 
merchantmen in 1743 paid from seventeen to twenty 
guineas for the run home, and in addition ** as many 
pounds of Sugar, Gallons of Rum and pounds of 
Tobacco as pounds in Money." ^ 

The lust for privateering had much to answer for 
in this respect. So possessed were the Virginians by 
the desire to get rich at the expense of their enemies 
that they quite "forgot their allegiance to the King." 
By the offer of inordinately high wages and rich 
prizes they did their utmost 'to seduce carpenters, 
gunners, sailmakers and able seamen from His 
Majesty's ships.* Any ship forced to winter at Rhode 
Island, again, always counted upon losing enough men 
to *' disable her from putting to sea " when the spring 
came. Here, too, the privateering spirit was to 

^ Ad. I. 233 — Admiral Vernon, 5 Sept. 1742. A rare recruiting 
sheet of 1780, which has for its headpiece a volunteer shouting : " Rum 
for nothing ! " describes Jamaica as "that delightful Island, abounding 
in Rum, Sugar and Spanish Dollars, where there is delicious living and 
plenty of Grogg and Punch." 

2 Ad. I. 480 — Townsend, 17 Aug. ; Shirley, 12 Sept. 1746. 

^ Ad. I 1479— Capt. Bladwell, i July 1743 

* Ad. I. 1480— Capt. Lord Alexander Banff, 21 Oct. 1744. 


blame, Rhode Island being notorious for its enterprise 
in that form of piracy. Another impenitent sinner in 
her inroads upon the companies of king's ships was 
Boston, where "a sett of people made it their 
Business" to entice them away.^ No ship could 
clean, refit, victual or winter there without '' the loss 
of all her men." Capt. Young, of the Jason, was in 
1753 left there with never a soul on board except 
** officers and servants, widows' men, the quarter-deck 
gentlemen and those called idlers." The rest had 
been seduced at £7,0 per head.^ 

So it went on. Day in, day out, at home and 
abroad, this ceaseless drain of men, linking hands in 
the decimation of the fleet with those able adjutants 
Disease and Death, accentuated progressively and 
enormously the naval needs of the country. For the 
apprehension and return of deserters from ships in 
home ports a drag-net system of rewards and conduct- 
money sprang into being ; but this the sailor to some 
extent contrived to elude. He ''stuck a cockade in 
his hat " and made shift to pass for a soldier on leave ; 
or he laid furtive hands on a horse and set up for an 
equestrian traveller. In the neighbourhood of all 
great seaport towns, as on all main roads leading to 
that paradise and ultimate goal of the deserter, the 
metropolis, horse-stealing by sailors ''on the run" 
prevailed to an alarming extent ; and although there 
was a time when the law strung him up for the crime 
of borrowing horses to help him on his way, as it had 

1 Ad. I. 1440— Capt. Askew, 27 Aug. 1748. 

2 Ad. I. 2732— Capt Young, 6 Oct. 1753. The "widows' men" 
here humorously alluded to would not add much to the effectiveness of 
the depleted company. They were imaginary sailors, borne on the 
ship's books for pay and prize-money which went to Greenwich Hospital. 


once hanged him for deserting, the naval needs of the 
country eventually changed all that and brought him 
a permanent reprieve. Thenceforth, instead of send- 
ing the happy-go-lucky, devil-may-care felon to the 
gallows, they turned him over to the press-gang and 
so re-consigned him, penniless and protesting, to the 
duty he detested. 



From the standpoint of a systematic supply of men 
to the fleet, the press-gang was a legitimate means 
to an imperative end. This was the official view. 
In how different a light the people came to regard 
the petty man-trap of power, we shall presently see. 

Designed as it was for the taking up of able- 
bodied adults, the main idea in the formation of 
the gang was strength and efficiency. It was ac- 
cordingly composed of the stoutest men procurable, 
dare-devil fellows capable of giving a good account 
of themselves in fight, or of carrying off their un- 
willing prey against long odds. Brute strength 
combined with animal courage being thus the first 
requisite of the ganger, it followed — not perhaps as 
a matter of course so much as a matter of fact — 
that his other qualities were seldom such as to 
endear him to the people. Wilkes denounced him 
for a ''lawless ruffian," and one of the newspapers 
of his time describes him, with commendable candour 
and undeniable truth, as a ''profligate and abandoned 
wretch, perpetually lounging about the streets and 
incessantly vomiting out oaths and horrid curses."^ 

The getting of a gang together presented little 

^ Londofi Chronicle^ i6 March 1762. 



difficulty. The first business of the officer charged 
with its formation was to find suitable quarters, rent 
not to exceed twenty shillings a week, inclusive of 
fire and candle. Here he hung out a flag as the sign 
of authority and a bait for volunteers. As a rule, 
they were easily procurable. All the roughs of the 
town were at his disposal, and when these did not 
yield material enough recourse was had to beat of 
drum, that instrument, together with the man who 
thumped it, being either hired at half-a-crown a day 
or " loaned " from the nearest barracks. Selected 
members of the crowd thus assembled were then 
plied with drink '' to invite them to enter " — an 
invitation they seldom refused. 

It goes without saying that gangs raised in this 
manner were of an exceedingly mixed character. On 
the principle of setting a thief to catch a thief, sea- 
faring men of course had first preference, but 
landsmen were by no means excluded. The gang 
operating at Godalming in 1782 may be cited as 
typical of the average inland gang. It consisted 
of three farmers, one weaver, one bricklayer, one 
labourer, and two others whose regular occupations 
are not divulged. They were probably sailors.^ 

Landsmen entered on the express understanding 
that they should not be pressed when the gang broke 
up. Sailor gangsmen, on the contrary, enjoyed no 
such immunity. The most they could hope for, when 
their arduous duties came to an end, was permission 
to ''choose their ship." The concession was no mean 
one. By choosing his ship discreetly the gangs- 
man avoided encounters with men he had pressed, 

^ Ad. I. 1502 — Capt. Boston, Report on Rendezvous, 1782. 


thus preserving his head unbroken and his skin 

Ship-gangs, unlike those operating on land, were 
composed entirely of seamen. For dash, courage 
and efficiency, they had no equal and few rivals. 

Apart from the officers commanding it, the 
number of men that went to the making of a gang 
varied from two to twenty or more according to the 
urgency of the occasion that called it into being and 
the importance or ill-repute of the centre selected 
as the scene of its operations. For Edinburgh and 
Leith twenty-one men, directed by a captain, two 
lieutenants and four midshipmen, were considered 
none too many. Greenock kept the same number 
of officers and twenty men fully employed, for here 
there was much visiting of ships on the water, a fast 
cutter being retained for that purpose. The Liver- 
pool gang numbered eighteen men, directed by seven 
officers and backed by a flotilla of three tenders, each 
under the command of a special lieutenant. Towns 
such as Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Great Yarmouth, 
Cowes and Haverfordwest also had gangs of at 
least twenty men each, with boats as required ; and 
Deal, Dover and Folkstone five gangs between 
them, totalling fifty men and fifteen officers, and 
employing as many boats as gangs for pressing in 
the Downs. 

In the case of ship-gangs, operating directly from 
a ship of war in harbour or at sea, the officers in 
charge were as a matter of course selected from the 
available ward- or gun-room contingent. Few, if 
any, of the naval men whose names at one time or 
another spring into prominence during the century. 




• , • e e e 

• • * « «« 

• • • • • • 

• ••• 

• •• • 

" •« 

• •• • 



escaped this unpleasant but necessary duty in their 
younger days. But on shore an altogether different 
order of things prevailed. 

The impress service ashore was essentially the 
grave of promotion. Whether through age, fault, 
misfortune or lack of influence in high places, the 
officers who directed it were generally disappointed 
men, service derelicts whose chances of ever sporting 
a second "swab," or of again commanding a ship, 
had practically vanished. Naval men afloat spoke 
of them with good-natured contempt as ''Yellow 
Admirals," the fictitious rank denoting a kind of 
service quarantine that knew no pratique. 

Like the salt junk of the foremast - man, the 
Yellow Admiral got fearfully " out of character " 
through over-keeping. With the service he lost all 
touch save in one degrading particular. His pay 
was better than his reputation, but his position was 
isolated, his duties and his actions subject to little 
official supervision. With opportunity came peculiar 
temptations to bribery and peculation, and to these 
he often succumbed. The absence of congenial 
society frequently weighed heavy upon him and 
drove him to immoderate drinking. Had he lived 
a generation or so later the average impress officer 
ashore could have echoed with perfect truth, and 
almost nightly iteration, the crapulous sentiment in 
which Byron is said to have toasted his hosts when 
dining on board H.M.S. Hector at Malta: — 

" Glorious Hector, son of Priam, 
Was ever mortal drunk as I am ! " ^ 

^ The authenticity of the anecdote, notwithstanding the fact that 
it was long current in naval circles, is more than doubtful. When 


A lieutenant attached to the gang at Chester is 
responsible for a piece of descriptive writing, of a 
biographical nature, which perhaps depicts the im- 
press officer of the century at his worst. Addressing 
a brother lieutenant at Waterford, to which station 
his superior was on the point of being transferred, 
** I think but right," says he, " to give you a 
character of Capt. P., who is to be your Regulating 
Captain. I have been with him six months here, 
and if it had not been that he is leaving the place, 
I should have wrote to the Board of Admiralty to 
have been removed from under his command. At 
first you'll think him a Fine old Fellow, but if it's 
possible he will make you Quarrel with all your 
Acquaintance. Be very Careful not to Introduce 
him to any Family that you have a regard for, for 
although he is near Seventy Years of Age, he is 
the greatest Debauchee you ever met with — a Man 
of No Religion, a Man who is Capable of any 
Meanness, Arbitrary and Tyrannicall in his Disposi- 
tion. This City has been several times just on the 
point of writing against him to the Board of Ad- 
miralty. He has a wife, and Children grown up 
to Man's Estate. The Woman he brings over with 
him is Bird the Builder's Daughter. To Conclude, 
there is not a House in Chester that he can go into 
but his own and the Rendezvous, after having been 
Six Months in one of the agreeablest Cities in 
England." ^ 

Bryon visited Malta in 1808 the Hector was doing duty at Plymouth 
as a prison-ship, and naval records disclose no other ship of that 
name till 1864. 

^ Ad, I. 1500 — Lieut. Shuckford, 7 March 1780. 


Ignorant of the fact that his reputation had thus 
preceded him, Capt. P. found himself assailed, on 
his arrival at Waterford, by a **most Infamous 
Epitaph," emanating none knew whence, nor cared. 
This circumstance, accentuated by certain indis- 
cretions of which the hectoring old officer was 
guilty shortly after his arrival, aroused strong hos- 
tility against him. A mob of fishwives, attacking 
his house at Passage, smashed the windows and 
were with difficulty restrained from levelling the 
place with the ground. His junior officers conspired 
against him. Piqued by the loss of certain per- 
quisites which the newcomer remorselessly swept 
away, they denounced him to the Admiralty, who 
ordered an inquiry into his conduct. After a hearing 
of ten days it went heavily against him, practically 
every charge being proved. He was immediately 
superseded and never again employed — a sad ending 
to a career of forty years under such men as Anson, 
Boscawen, Hawke and Vernon.^ Yet such was the 
ultimate fate of many an impress officer. A stronger 
light focussed him ashore, and habits, proclivities and 
weaknesses that escaped censure at sea, were here 
projected odiously upon the sensitive retina of public 

Of the younger men who drifted into the shore 
service there were some, it need scarcely be said, 
who for obvious reasons escaped, or, rather, did not 
succumb to the common odium. A notable example 
of this type of officer was Capt. Jahleel Brenton, who 
for some years commanded the gangs at Leith and 

^ Ad. I. 1500— Capt. Bennett, 13 Nov. 1780, and enclosures con- 
stituting the inquiry. 


Greenock. Though a man of blunt sensibilities and 
speech, he possessed qualities which carried him out 
of the stagnant back-water of pressing into the swim 
of service afloat, where he eventually secured a 
baronetcy and the rank of Vice- Admiral. Singularly 
enough, he was American-born. 

The senior officer in charge of a gang, commonly 
known as the Regulating Captain, might in rank be 
either captain or lieutenant. It was his duty to hire, 
but not to "keep" the official headquarters of the 
gang, to organise that body, to direct its operations, 
to account for all moneys expended and men pressed, 
and to ** regulate " or inspect the latter and certify 
them fit for service or otherwise. In this last-named 
duty a surgeon often assisted him, usually a local 
practitioner, who received a shilling a head for his 
pains. One or more lieutenants, each of whom had 
one or more midshipmen at his beck and call, served 
under the Regulating Captain. They ''kept" the 
headquarters and led the gang, or contingents of the 
gang, on pressing forays, thus coming in for much 
of the hard work, and many of the harder knocks, 
that unpopular body was liable to. Sometimes, as 
in the case of Dover, Deal and Folkestone, several 
gangs were grouped under a single regulating officer. 

The pay of the Regulating Captain was /^i 
a day, with an additional 5s. subsistence money. 
Lieutenants received their usual service pay, and 
for subsistence 3s. 6d. In special cases grants were 
made for coach-hire^ and such purposes as ''enter- 

^ Capt. William Bennett's bill for the double journey between 
Waterford and Cork, on the occasion of the inquiry into the conduct 
of the Regulating Officer at the former place, over which he presided, 


tainments to the Mayor and Corporation, the 
Magistrates and the Officers of the Regulars and 
the Mihtia, by way of return for their civiHties and 
for their assistance in carrying on the impress." The 
grant to the Newcastle officers, under this head, in 
1763 amounted to upwards of ^93/ 

'* Road-money" was generally allowed at the rate 
of 3d. a mile for officers and id. a mile for gangers 
when on the press ; but as a matter of fact these 
modest figures were often largely exceeded — to the 
no small emolument of the regulating officer. Lieut. 
Gaydon, commanding at Ilfracombe, in 1795 debited 
the Navy Board with a sum of ^148 for 1776 miles 
of travel; Capt. Gibbs, of Swansea, with ;!^i90 for 
1 56 1 miles; and Capt. Longcroft, of Haverfordwest, 
with ^524 for 8388 miles — a charge characterised 
by Admiral M 'Bride, who that year reported upon 
the working of the impress, as "immense."^ He 
might well have used a stronger term. 

An item which it was at one time permissible to 
charge, possesses a special interest. This was a bonus 
of IS. a head on all men pressed — a bonus that was in 
reality nothing more than the historic prest shilling 
of other days, now no longer paid to pressed men, 

amounted to forty-three guineas — a sum he considered "as moderate 
as any gentleman's could have been, laying aside the wearing of my 
uniform every day." Half the amount went in chaise and horse hire, 
" there being," we are told, " no chaises upon the road as in England," 
and " only one to be had at Cork, all the rest being gone to Dublin 
with the Lawyers and the Players, the Sessions being just ended and 
the Play House broke up" {Ad. i. 1503 — Capt. Bennett, 24 March 
1782). Nelson's bill for posting from Burnham, Norfolk, to London 
and back, 260 miles, in the year 1789, amounted to £ig, 5s. 2d. {Ad. 
Victualling Dept., Miscellanea, No. 26). 

^ Ad. I. 1493 — Capt. Bover, 6 March 1763, and endorsement. 

2 Ad. I, 579 — Admiral M'Bride, 19 March 1795. 


diverted into the pockets of those who did the 
pressing. The practice, however, was short-lived. 
Tending as it did to fill the ships with unserviceable 
men, it was speedily discontinued and the historic 
shilling made over to the certifying surgeon. 

The shore midshipman could boast but litde 
affinity with his namesake of the quarter-deck. John 
Richards, midshipman of the Godalming gang, had 
never in his life set foot on board a man-of-war or 
been to sea. His age was forty. The case of 
James Good, of Hull, is even more remarkable. He 
had served as " Midshipman of the Impress " for 
thirty years out of sixty-three.^ The pay of these 
elderly youths at no time exceeded a guinea a week. 

The gangsman was more variously, if not more 
generously remunerated. At Deal, in 1743, he had 
IS. per day for his boat, and "found himself," or, 
in the alternative, " ten shillings for every good 
seaman procured, in full for his trouble and the hire 
of the boat." At Dover, in 1776, he received 2s. 6d. 
a day ; at Godalming, six years later, los. 6d. a 
week ; and at Exeter, during the American War of 
Independence, when the demand for seamen was 
phenomenal, 14s. a week, 5s. for every man pressed, 
and clothing and shoes '* when he deserved it." Pay 
and allowances were thus far from uniform. Both 
depended largely upon the scarcity or abundance of 
suitable gangsmen, the demand for seamen, and the 
astuteness of the officer organising the gang. Some 
gangs not on regular wages received as much as 
"twenty shillings for each man impressed, and six- 

^ Ad. I. 1455— Capt. Acklom, 6 Oct. 1814. Ad. i. 1502— Capt. 
Boston, Report on Rendezvous, 1782. 


pence a mile for as many miles as they could make 
it appear each man had travelled, not exceeding 
twenty, besides (a noteworthy addition) the twelve- 
pence press-money " ; but if a man pressed under 
these conditions were found to be unserviceable after 
his appearance on shipboard, all money considerations 
for his capture were either withheld or recalled. On 
the whole, considering the arduous and disagreeable 
nature of the gangsman's calling, the Navy Board can- 
not be accused of dealing any too generously by him. 

" If ever you intend to man the fleet without being 
cheated by the captains and pursers," Charles ii. is 
credited with having once said to his council, **you 
may go to bed." What in this sense was true of 
the service afloat was certainly not less true of that 
loosely organised and laxly supervised naval depart- 
ment, the impress ashore. Considering the repute 
of the officers engaged in it, and the opportunities 
they enjoyed for peculation and the taking of bribes 
— considering, above all, the extreme difficulty of 
keeping a watchful eye upon officers scattered through- 
out the length and breadth of the land, the wonder is, 
not that irregularities crept in, but that they should 
have been, upon the whole, so few and so venial. 

To allow the gangsmen to go fishing for sea-fish 
or dredging for oysters, as was commonly done when 
there was little prospect of a catch on land, was no 
more heinous than the custom prevailing — to every- 
body's knowledge — at King's Lynn in Norfolk, where 
the gang had no need to go a-fishing because, regu- 
larly as the cobbles came in, the midshipman attached 
to the gang appeared on the quay and had the 
** insolence to demand Three of the Best Fysh for 


the Regulating Captain, the Lieutenant and himself."^ 
And if, again, rating a gangsman in choicest quarter- 
deck language were no serious offence, why should 
not the Regulating Captain rate his son as midship- 
man, even though " not proper to be employed as 
such." And similarly, granting it to be right to 
earn half a sovereign by pressing a man contrary 
to law, where was the wrong in "clearing him of 
the impress " for the same amount, as was commonly 
done by the middies at Sunderland and Shields.^ 
These were works of supererogation rather than sins 
against the service, and little official notice was taken 
of them unless, as in the case of Liverpool, they were 
carried to such lengths as to create a public scandal.* 
There were, as a matter of course, some officers 
in the service who went far beyond the limits of such 
venial irregularities and, like Falstaff, ** misused the 
king's press damnably." Though according to the 
terms of their warrant they were " to take care not 
to demand or receive any money, gratuity, reward, 
or any other consideration whatsoever for the sparing, 
exchanging or discharging any person or persons 
impressed or to be impressed," the taking of "gratifi- 
cations" for these express purposes prevailed to a 
notorious extent. The difficulty was to fasten the 
offence upon the offenders. " Bailed men," as they 
were called, did not "peach." Their immunity from 
the press was too dearly bought to admit of their 
indulging personal animus against the officer who 

^ Ad. I. 1 546— Petition of the Owners of the Fishing Cobbles of 
Lynn, 3 March 1809. 

* Ad. I. 1557 — Capt. Bell, 27 June 1806, enclosure. 

* Ad. I. 579— Admiral Child, 30 Jan. 1800. 


had taken their money. It was only through some 
tangle of circumstance over which the delinquent 
had no control that the truth leaked out. Such a 
case was that of the officer in command of the Mary 
tender at Sunderland, a lieutenant of over thirty 
years' standing. Having pressed one Michael 
Dryden, a master's mate whom he ought never to 
have pressed at all, he so far "forgot" himself as 
to accept a bribe of ;^I5 for the man's release, and 
then, ''having that day been dining with a party of 
military officers," forgot to release the man. The 
double lapse of memory proved his ruin. Repre- 
sentations were made to the Admiralty, and the 
unfortunately constituted lieutenant was ''broke" and 

Another species of fraud upon which the Ad- 
miralty was equally severe, was that long practised 
with impunity by a certain regulating officer at Poole. 
Not only did he habitually put back the dates on 
which men were pressed, thus "bearing" them for 
subsistence money they never received, he made it 
a further practice to enter on his books the names 
of fictitious pressed men who opportunely " escaped " 
after adding their quota to his dishonest perquisites. 
So gencx^al was misappropriation of funds by means 
of this ingenious fraud that detection was deservedly 
visited with instant dismissal.^ 

Though to the gangsman all things were reputedly 
lawful, some things were by no means expedient. 
He could with impunity deprive almost any able- 
bodied adult of his freedom, and he could sometimes, 

^ Ad. I. 2740— Lieut. Atkinson, 24 June 1798, and endorsement. 
* Ad. I. 1526 — Capt. Boyle, 2 Oct. 1801, and endorsement. 



with equal impunity, add to his scanty earnings by 
restoring that freedom for a consideration in coin of 
the realm ; but when, like Josh Cooper, sometime 
gangsman at Hull, he extended his prerogative to 
the occupants of hen-roosts, he was apt to find 
himself at cross-purposes with the law as interpreted 
by the sitting magistrates. 

Amongst less questionable perquisites accruing 
to the gangsman two only need be mentioned here. 
One was the "straggling-money" paid to him for 
the apprehension of deserters — 20s. for every deserter 
taken, with "conduct" money to boot; the other, the 
anker of brandy designedly thrown overboard by 
smugglers when chased by a gang engaged in 
pressing afloat. Occasionally the brandy checked 
the pursuit; but more often it gave an added zest 
to the chase and so hastened the capture of the 
fugitive donors. 

To the unscrupulous outsider the opportunities 
for illicit gain afforded by the service made an 
irresistible appeal. Sham gangs and make-believe 
press-masters abounded, thriving exceedingly upon 
the fears and credulity of the people until capture 
put a term to their activities and sent them to the 
pillory, the prison or the fleet they pretended to 
cater for. 

Their mode of operation seldom varied. They 
pressed a man, and then took money for "dis- 
charging " him ; or they threatened to press and 
were bought off. One Philpot was in 1709 fined 
ten nobles and sentenced to the pillory for this fraud. 
He had many imitators, amongst them John Love, 
who posed as a midshipman, and William Moore, 


his gangsman, both of whom were eventually brought 
to justice and turned over to His Majesty's ships. 

The role adopted by these last-named pretenders 
was a favourite one with men engaged in crimping 
for the merchant service. Shrewsbury in 1780 
received a visit from one of these individuals — "a 
Person named Hopkins, who appeared in a Lieutenant's 
Uniform and committed many fraudulant Actions and 
Scandalous Abuses in raising Men," as he said, ''for 
the Navy." Two months later another impostor of 
the same type appeared at Birmingham, where he 
scattered broadcast a leaflet, headed with the royal 
arms and couched in the following seductive terms : 
" Eleven Pounds for every Able Seaman, Five 
Pounds for every ordinary Seaman, and Three 
Pounds for every Able-bodied Landsman, exclusive 
of a compleat set of Sea Clothing, given by the 
Marine Society. All Good Seamen, and other 
hearty young Fellows of Spirit, that are willing to 
serve on board any of His Majesty's Vessels or 
Ships of War, Let them with Chearfulness repair to 
the Sailors' Head Rendezvous in this Town, where 
a proper Officer attends, who will give them every 
encouragement they can desire. Now my Jolly Lads 
is the time to fill your Pockets with Dollars, Double 
Doubloons & Luidores. Conduct Money allowed, 
Chest and Bedding sent Carriage Free." Soon after, 
the two united forces at Coventry, whither Capt. 
Beecher desired to "send a party to take them," but 
to this request the Admiralty turned a deaf ear. In 
their opinion the game was not worth the candle.^ 

Ex-midshipman Rookhad, who when dismissed 

1 Ad. I. 1500 — Letters of Capt. Beecher, 1780, 


the service took to boarding vessels in the Thames 
and extorting money and liquor from the masters 
as a consideration for not pressing their men, did not 
escape so lighdy. Him the Admiralty prosecuted.^ 

It was in companies, however, that the sham 
ganger most frequendy took the road, for num- 
bers not only enhanced his chances ot obtaining 
money, they materially diminished the risk of capture. 
One such gang was composed of ** eighteen desperate 
villians," who were nevertheless taken. Another, a 
"parcel of fellows armed with cutlasses like a press- 
gang," appeared at Dublin in 1743, where they boldly 
entered public-houses on pretence of looking for 
sailors, and there extorted money and drink. What 
became of them we are not told ; but in the case 
of the pretended gang whose victim, after handing 
over two guineas as the price of his release, was 
pressed by a regularly constituted gang, we learn 
the gratifying sequel. The real gang gave chase to 
the sham gang and pressed every man of them. 

According to the '' Humble Petition of Grace 
Blackmore of Stratford le Bow, widow," on Friday 
the 29th of May, in an unknown year of Queen 
Anne's reign, " there came to Bow ffaire severall 
pretended pressmasters, endeavouring to impress." 
A tumult ensued. Murder was freely "cryed out," 
apparently with good reason, for in the mel6e peti- 
tioner's husband, then constable of Bow, was ** wounded 
soe that he shortly after dyed." ^ 

There were occasions when the sham gang 

^ Ad. 7. 298 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 12. Process 
was by information in the Court of King's Bench, for a misdemeanour. 
2 State Papers Domestic^ Anne, xxxvi. No. 17. 


operated under cover of a real press- warrant, and 
for this the Admiralty was directly to blame. It 
had become customary at the Navy Office to send 
out warrants, whether to commanders of ships or 
to Regulating Captains, in blank, the person to whom 
the warrant was directed filling in the name for 
himself. Such warrants were frequently stolen and 
put to irregular uses, and of this a remarkable instance 
occurred in 1755. 

In that year one Nicholas Cooke, having by some 
means obtained possession of such a warrant, "filled 
up the blank thereof by directing it to himself, by 
the name and description of Lieutenant Nicholas 
Cooke, tho' in truth not a Lieutenant nor an Officer 
in His Majesty's Navy," hired a vessel — the Provi- 
dence snow of Dublin — and in her cruised the coasts 
of Ireland, pressing men. After thus raising as many 
as he could carry, he shaped his course for Liverpool, 
no doubt intending, on his arrival at that port, to sell 
his unsuspecting victims to the merchant ships in the 
Mersey at so much a head. Through bad seamanship, 
however, the vessel was run aground at Seacombe, 
opposite to Liverpool, and Capt. Darby, of H.M.S. 
Seahorse, perceiving her plight, and thinking to render 
assistance in return for perhaps a man or two, took 
boat and rowed across to her. To his astonishment 
he found her full of Irishmen to the number of 
seventy-three, whom he immediately pressed and 
removed to his own ship. The circumstance of the 
false warrant now came to light, and with it another, 
of worse omen for the mock lieutenant. In the hold 
a quantity of undeclared spirits was discovered, and 
this fact afforded the Admiralty a handle they were 


not slow to avail themselves of. They put the Excise 
Officers on the scent, and Cooke was prosecuted for 

The most successful sham gang ever organised 
was perhaps that said to have been got together by 
a trio of mischievous Somerset girls. The scene of 
the exploit was the Denny- Bowl quarry, near Taunton. 
The quarrymen there were a hard-bitten set and great 
braggarts, openly boasting that no gang dare attack 
them, and threatening, in the event of so unlikely a 
contingency, to knock the gangsmen on the head and 
bury them in the rubbish of the pit. There happened 
to be in the neighbouring town " three merry maids," 
who heard of this tall talk and secretly determined to 
put the vaunted courage of the quarrymen to the test. 
They accordingly dressed themselves in men's clothing, 
stuck cockades in their hats, and with hangers under 
their arms stealthily approached the pit. Sixty men 
were at work there ; but no sooner did they catch 
sight of the supposed gang than they one and all 
threw down their tools and ran for their lives. 

Officially known as the Rendezvous, a French 
term long associated with English recruiting, the 
headquarters of the gang were more familiarly, and 
for brevity's sake, called the " rondy." Publicans 
were partial to having the rondy on their premises 
because of the trade it brought them. Hence it was 
usually an alehouse, frequently one of the shadiest 
description, situated in the lowest slum of the town ; 
but on occasions, as when the gang was of uncommon 
strength and the number of pressed men dealt with 
proportionately large, a private house or other suit- 

^ Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. loi. 


able building was taken for the exclusive use of the 
service. It was distinguished by a flag — a Jack — 
displayed upon a pole. The cost of the two was 
27s., and in theory they were supposed to last a year ; 
but in towns where the populace evinced their love 
for the press by hewing down the pole and tearing 
the flag in ribbons, these emblems of national liberty 
had frequently to be renewed. At King's Lynn as 
much as ;^i3 was spent upon them in four years — 
an outlay regarded by the Navy Board with absolute 
dismay. It would have been not less dismayed, 
perhaps, could it have seen the bunting displayed by 
rendezvous whose surroundings were friendly. There 
the same old Jack did duty year after year until, 
grimy and bedraggled, it more resembled the black 
flag than anything else that flew, wanting only the 
skull and cross-bones to make it a fitting emblem of 
authorised piracy. 

The rondy was hardly a spot to which one would 
have resorted for a rest-cure. When not engaged 
in pressing, the gangsmen were a roistering, drinking 
crew, under lax control and never averse from a row, 
either amongst themselves or with outsiders. Some- 
times the commanding officer made the place his 
residence, and when this was the case some sort of 
order prevailed. The floors were regularly swept, 
the beds made, the frowsy ''general" gratified by 
a weekly **tip" on pay-day. But when, on the other 
hand, the gangsmen who did not "find themselves" 
occupied the rondy to the exclusion of the officer, 
eating and sleeping there, tramping in and out at all 
hours of the day and night, dragging pressed men 
in to be " regulated " and locked up, and diverting 


such infrequent intervals of leisure as they enjoyed 
by pastimes in which fear of the " gent overhead " 
played no part — when this was the case the rondy 
became a veritable bear-garden, a place of unspeak- 
able confusion wherein papers and pistols, boots 
and blankets, cutlasses, hats, beer-pots and staves 
cumbered the floors, the lockers and the beds with 
a medley of articles torn, rusty, mud-stained, dirt- 
begrimed and unkept. 

Amongst accessories essential to the efficient 
activity of gangs stationed at coast or river towns 
the boat had first place. Sometimes both sail and 
row-boats were employed. Luggers of the old type, 
fast boats carrying a great press of sail, served best 
for overhauling ships ; but on inland waterways, 
such as the Thames, the Humber or the Tyne, a 
" sort of wherry, constructed for rowing fast," was 
the favourite vehicle of pursuit. The rate of hire 
varied from is. a day to two or more guineas a 
week, according to the size and class of boat. At 
Cork it was " five shillings Irish " per day. 

Accessories of a less indispensable nature, 
occasionally allowed, were, at Dartmouth and a few 
other places, cockades for the gangsmen's hats, 
supplied at a cost of is. each; at Tower Hill a 
messenger, pay 20s. a week ; and at Appledore an 
umbrella for use in rainy weather, price 12s. 6d. 

The arms of the gang comprised, first, a press- 
warrant, and, second, such weapons as were necessary 
to enforce it. 

In the literature of the eighteenth century the 
warrant is inseparably associated with the short, 
incurvated service sword commonly known as the 


cutlass or hanger ; but in the press-gang prints of 
the period the gangsmen are generally armed with 
stout clubs answering to Smollett's ''good oak plant." 
Apart from this artistic evidence, however, there is 
no valid reason for believing that the bludgeon ever 
came into general use as the ganger's weapon. As 
early as the reign of Anne he went armed with the 
" Queen's broad cutlash," and for most gangs, certainly 
for all called upon to operate in rough neighbourhoods, 
the hanger remained the stock weapon throughout 
the century. In expeditions involving special risk or 
danger, the musket and the pistol supplemented what 
must have been in itself no mean weapon. 

As we have already seen, the earliest recorded 
press-warrants emanated from the king in person, 
whilst later ones were issued by the king in council 
and endorsed by the naval authorities. As the need 
of men became more and more imperative, however, 
this mode of issue was found to be too cumbersome 
and inexpeditious. Hence, by the time the eighteenth 
century came in, with its tremendously enhanced 
demands on behalf of the Navy, the royal prerogative 
in respect to warrants had been virtually delegated 
to the Admiralty, who issued them on their own 
initiative, though ostensibly in pursuance of His 
Majesty's Orders in Council. 

An Admiralty warrant empowered the person to 
whom it was directed to "impress" as many *' sea- 
men " as possibly he could procure, giving to each 
man so impressed is. "for prest money." He was 
to impress none but such as " were strong bodies and 
capable to serve the king " ; and, having so impressed 
such persons, he was to deliver them up to the officer 


regulating the nearest rendezvous. All civil authori- 
ties were to be "aiding and assisting" to him in the 
discharge of this duty. 

Now this document, the stereotyped press-warrant 
of the century, here concisely summarised in its own 
phraseology, was not at all what it purported to be. 
It was in fact a warrant out of time, an official 
anachronism, a red-tape survival of that bygone 
period when pressing still meant "presting" and 
force went no further than a threat. For men were 
now no longer '*prested." They were pressed, and 
that, too, in the most drastic sense of the term. The 
king's shilling no longer changed hands. Even in 
Pepys' time men were pressed " without money," and 
in none of the accounts of expenses incurred in press- 
ing during the century which followed, excepting only 
a very few of the earlier ones, can any such item 
as the king's shilling or prest-money be discovered. 
Its abolition was a, logical sequence of the change 
from presting to pressing. 

The seaman, moreover, so far from being the sole 
quarry of the warrant-holder, now sought concealment 
amongst a people almost without exception equally 
liable with himself to the capture he endeavoured to 
elude. Retained merely as a matter of form, and 
totally out of keeping with altered conditions, the 
warrant was in effect obsolete save as an instrument 
authorising one man to deprive another of his liberty 
in the king's name. Even the standard of ''able 
bodies and capable " had deteriorated to such an 
extent that the officers of the fleet were kept nearly 
as busy weeding out and rejecting men as were 
the officers of the impress in taking them. 


Still, the warrant served. Stripped of its obsolete 
injunctions, it read: **Go ye out into the highways 
and hedges, and water-ways, and compel them to 
come in " — enough, surely, for any officer imbued with 
zeal for His Majesty's service. 

Though according to the strict letter of the law 
as defined by various decisions of the courts a 
press-warrant was legally executable only by the 
officer to whom it was addressed, in practice the 
limitation was very widely departed from, if not 
altogether ignored ; for just as a constable or sheriff 
may call upon bystanders to assist him in the execu- 
tion of his office, so the holder of a press-warrant, 
though legally unable to delegate his authority by 
other means, could call upon others to aid him in 
the execution of his duty. Naturally, the gangsmen 
being at hand, and being at hand for that very purpose, 
he gave them first preference. Hence, the gangs- 
man pressed on the strength of a warrant which in 
reality gave him no power to press. 

While the law relating to the intensive force of 
warrants was thus deliberately set at naught, an 
extraordinary punctiliousness for legal formality was 
displayed in another direction. According to tradi- 
tion and custom no warrant was valid until it had 
received the sanction of the civil power. Solicitor- 
General Yorke could find no statutory authority for 
such procedure.^ He accordingly pronounced it to be 
non-essential to the validity of warrants. Neverthe- 
less, save in cases where the civil power refused its 
endorsement, it was universally adhered to. What 
was bad law was notoriously good policy, for a 

^ Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 102. 


disaffected mayor, or an unfriendly Justice of the 
Peace, had it in his power to make the path of the 
impress officer a thorny one indeed. " Make unto 
yourselves friends," was therefore one of the first 
injunctions laid upon officers whose duties unavoid- 
ably made them many enemies. 



In theory an authority for the taking of seafaring 
men only, the press- warrant was in practice invested 
with all the force of a Writ of Quo Warranto requir- 
ing every able-bodied male adult to show by what 
right he remained at large. The difference between 
the theory and the practice of pressing was conse- 
quently as wide as the poles. 

While the primary and ostensible objective of the 
impress remained always what it had been from the 
outset, the seaman who had few if any land-ties 
except those of blood or sex, from this root principle 
there sprang up a very Upas tree of pretension, whose 
noxious branches overspread practically every section 
of the community. Hence the press-gang, the em- 
bodiment of this pretension, eventually threw aside 
ostence and took its pick of all who came its way, let 
their occupation or position be what it might. It 
was no duty of the gangsman to employ his 
hanger in splitting hairs. ** First catch your man," 
was for him the greatest of all the command- 
ments. Discrimination was for his masters. The 
weeding out could be done when the pressing was 

The classes hardest hit by this lamentable want 



of discrimination were the classes engaged in trade. 
** Mr. Coventry," wrote Pepys some four years after 
the Restoration, "showed how the medium of the 
men the King hath one year with another employed 
in his navy since his coming, hath not been above 
3000 men, or at most 4000 ; and now having 
occasion for 30,000, the remaining 26,000 must be 
found out of the Trade of the Nation.'' Naturally. 
Where a nation of shopkeepers was concerned it 
could hardly have been otherwise. They who go 
down to the sea in ships and do business in great 
waters, returning laden with the spoils of the com- 
mercial world, have perforce to render tribute unto 
Caesar ; but Mr. Commissioner Coventry little 
guessed, when he enunciated his corollary with such 
nice precision, to what it was destined to lead in the 
next hundred years or so. 

Under the merciless exactions of the press-gang 
Trade did not, however, prove the submissive thing 
that was wont to stand at its doors and cry : ** Will 
you buy t will you buy ? " or to bow prospective 
customers into its rich emporiums with unctuous 
rubbing of hands and sauve words. Trade knew its 
power and determined to use it. "Look you! my 
Lords Commissioners," cried Trade, truculently cock- 
ing its hat in the face of Admiralty, " I have had 
enough. You have taken my butcher, my baker, 
my candlestick-maker, nor have you spared that 
worthy youth, the prentice who was to have wed my 
daughter. My coachman, the driver of my gilded 
chariot, goes in fear of you, and as for my sedan-chair 
man, he is no more found. My colliers, draymen, 
watermen, the carpenters who build my ships and 


the mariners who sail them, the ablest of these my 
necessary helpers sling their hammocks in your fleet. 
You have crippled the printing of my Bible and 
the brewing of my Beer, and I can bear no more. 
Protect me from my arch-enemy the foreigner if you 
must and will, but not, my Lords Commissioners, by 
such monstrous personal methods as these." *'Your 
servant ! " said Admiralty, obsequious before the only 
power it feared — "your servant to command!" and 
straightway set about finding a remedy for the evils 
Trade complained of. 

Now, to attain this end, so desirable if Trade 
were to be placated, it was necessary to define with 
precision either whom the gang might take, or whom 
it might not take ; and here Admiralty, though 
notoriously a body without a brain, achieved a stroke 
of genius, for it brought down both birds with a 
single stone. Postulating first of all the old lex sine 
lege fiction that every native-born Briton and every 
British male subject born abroad was legally press- 
able, it laid it down as a logical sequence that no man, 
whatever his vocation or station in life, was lawfully 
exempt ; that exemption was in consequence an 
official indulgence and not a right ; and that apart 
from such indulgence every man, unless idiotic, blind, 
lame, maimed or otherwise physically unfit, was not 
only liable to be pressed, but could be legally pressed 
for the king's service at sea.^ Having thus cleared 
the ground root and branch. Admiralty magnani- 
mously proceeded to frame a category of persons 
whom, as an act of grace and a concession to Trade, 

^ Ad. 7, 300 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 26 ; and Ad. i. 
581— Admiral Berkeley, 14 Feb. 1805, well express the official view. 


it was willing to protect from assault and capture by 
its emissary the press-gang. 

These exemptions from the wholesale incidence 
of the impress were not granted all at once. 
Embodied from time to time in Acts of Parliament 
and so-called acts of official grace — slowly and 
painfully wrung from a reluctant Admiralty by the 
persistent demands and ever-growing power of Trade 
— they spread themselves over the entire century of 
struggle for the mastery of the sea, from which they 
were a reaction, and, touching the lives of the common 
people in a hundred and one intimate points and 
interests, culminated at length in the abolition of that 
most odious system of oppression from which they 
had sprung, and in a charter of liberties before which 
the famous charter of King John sinks into insig- 

As a matter of policy the foreigner had first place 
in the list of exemptions. He could volunteer if he 
chose,^ but he must not be pressed.^ To deprive him 
of his right in this respect was to invite unpleasant 
diplomatic complications, of which England had 
already too many on her hands. Trade, too, looked 
upon the foreigner as her perquisite, and Trade must 
be indulged. Moreover, he fostered mutiny in the 
fleet, where he was prone to *'fly in the face" of 
authority and^to refuse to work, much less fight, for an 

^ Strenuous efforts were made in 1709 to induce the "Poor Palatines" 
— seven thousand of them encamped at Blackheath, and two thousand 
in Sir John Parson's brewhouse at Camberwell — to enter for the navy. 
But the "thing was New to them to go aboard a Man of Warr," so they 
dechned the invitation, "having the Notion of being sent to CaroHna." — 
Ad. I. 1437— Letters of Capt. Aston. 

* 13 George II. cap. 17. 

The Press-Gaxg seizing a Victim. 

i • * • 

• • • • • 

• • • • • 

• • • •« 
• • • 

• • • « 

• • • • « 



alien people. If, however, he served on board British 
merchant ships for two years, or if he married in 
England, he at once lost caste, since he then became 
a naturalised British subject and was liable to have 
even his honeymoon curtailed by a visit from the 
press-gang. Such, in fact, was the fate of one 
William Castle of Bristol in 1806. Pressed there in 
that year on his return from the West Indies, he was 
discharged as a person of alien birth ; but having 
immediately afterwards committed the indiscretion of 
taking a Bristol woman to wife, he was again pressed, 
this time within three weeks of his wedding-day, and 
kept by express order of Admiralty.^ 

For some years after the passing of the Act 
exempting the foreigner, his rights appear to have 
been generally, though by no means universally 
respected. '' Discharge him if not married or settled 
in England," was the usual order when he chanced 
to be taken by the gang. With the turn of the 
century, however, a reaction set in. Pressed men 
claiming to be of alien birth were thenceforth only 
liberated "if unfit for service."^ For this untoward 
change the foreigner could blame none but himself. 
When taxed with having an English wife, he could 
seldom or never be induced to admit the soft im- 
peachment. Consequently, whenever he was taken 
by the gang he was assumed, in the absence of proof 
to the contrary, to have committed the fatal act of 
naturalisation.^ Alien seamen in distress through 

^ Ad. I. 1537— Capt. Barker, 23 July 1806. 

^ Ad. I. 2733— Capt. Young, 11 March 1756, endorsement, and 
numerous instances. 

^Ad.i. 581— Admiral Phillip, 26 Feb. 1805. 


shipwreck or other accidental causes, formed a humane 
exception to this unwritten law. 

The negro was never reckoned an alien. Looked 
upon as a proprietary subject of the Crown, and 
having no one in particular to speak up for or defend 
him, he "shared the same fate as the free-born white 
man."^ Many blacks, picked up in the West Indies 
or on the American coast " without hurting com- 
merce," were to be found on board our ships of war, 
where, when not incapacitated by climatic conditions, 
they made active, alert seamen and ** generally 
imagined themselves free."^ Their point of view, 
poor fellows, was doubtless a strictly comparative one. 

Theoretically exempt by virtue of his calling, 
whatever that might be, the landsman was in reality 
scarcely less marked down by the gang than his 
unfortunate brother the seafaring man ; for notwith- 
standing all its professions to the contrary, Admiralty 
could not afford to ignore the potentialities of the 
reserve the landsman represented. Hence no occu- 
pation, no property qualification, could or did protect 
him. As early as 1705 old Justice, in his treatise on 
sea law, deplores bitterly the "barbarous custom of 
pressing promiscuously landsmen and seamen," and 
declares that the gang, in its purblind zeal, "hurried 
away tradesmen from their houses, 'prentices and 
journeymen from their masters' shops, and even 
housekeepers (householders) too." By 1744 the 
practice had become confirmed. In that year Capt. 
Innes, of His Majesty's armed sloop the Hind, 
applied to the Lords Commissioners for "Twenty 

1 Ad. I. 482— Admiral Lord Colvill, 29 Oct. 1762. 
* Ad. I. 585— Admiral Donnelly, 22 Feb. 181 5. 


Landsmen from Twenty to Twenty-five years of 
Age." The Admiralty order, *' Let the Regulating 
Captains send them as he desires," ^ leaves no room 
for doubt as to the class of men provided. They 
were pressed men, not volunteers. 

Nor is this a solitary instance of a practice that 
was rapidly growing to large proportions. Many a 
landsman, in the years that followed, shared the fate 
of the Irish "country farmer" who went into Water- 
ford to sell his corn, and was there pressed and sent 
on board the tender ; of James Whitefoot, the Bristol 
glover, "a timid, unformed young man, the comfort 
and support of his parents," who, although he had 
"never seen a ship in his life," was yet pressed whilst 
"passing to follow his business," which knew him no 
more ; and of Winstanley, the London butcher, who 
served for upwards of sixteen years as a pressed 
man.^ Wilkes' historic barber would have entered 
upon the same enforced career had not that astute 
Alderman discovered, to the astonishment of the 
nation at large, that a warrant which authorised the 
pressing of seamen did not necessarily authorise the 
pressing of a city tonsor. 

Amongst landsmen the harvester, as a worker 
of vital utility to the country, enjoyed a degree 
of exemption accorded to few. Impress officers had 
particular instructions concerning him. They were 
to delete him from the category of those who might 
be taken. Armed with a certificate from the minister 

^ Ad. I. 1983— Capt. Innes, 3 May 1744, and endorsement. 

2 Ad. I. 1501— Capt. Bligh, 16 May 1781. Ad. i. 1531— Duchess of 
Gordon, 14 Feb. 1804. Ad. i. 584— Humble Petition of Betsey Win- 
stanley, 2 Sept. 1 8 14. 


and churchwardens of his parish, this migratory 
farm-hand, provided always he were not a sailor 
masquerading in that disguise, could traverse the 
length and breadth of the land to all intents and 
purposes a free man. To him, as well as to the 
grower of corn who depended so largely upon his aid 
in getting his crop, the concession proved an inestim- 
able boon. There were violations of the harvester's 
status,' it is true ; ^ but these were too infrequent to 
affect seriously the industry he represented. 

So far as the press was concerned, the harvester 
was better off than the gentleman, for while the 
former could dress as he pleased, the latter was often 
obliged to dress as he could, and in this lay an 
element of danger. So long as his clothes were as 
good as the blood he boasted, and he wore them with 
an aplomb suggestive of position and influence, the 
gentleman was safe ; but let his pretensions to 
gentility lie more in the past than in the suit on his 
back, and woe betide him ! In spite of his protesta- 
tions the gang took him, and he was lucky indeed if, 
like the gentleman who narrates his experience in the 
Review for the loth of February 1706, he was able 
to convince his captors that he was foreign born by 
" talking Latin and Greek." 

To the people at large, whether landsmen or sea- 
farers, the Act exempting from the press every male 
under eighteen and over fifty-five years of age would 
have brought a sorely needed relief had not Admiralty 
been a past-master in the subtile art of outwitting the 
law. In this instance a simple regulation did the 
trick. Every man or boy who claimed the benefit of 

^ Ad. I. 5125 — Memorial of Sir William Oglander, Bart., July 1796. 


the age-limit when pressed, was required to prove 
his claim ere he could obtain his discharge.^ The 
impossibility of any general compliance with such a 
demand on the part of persons often as ignorant of 
birth certificates as they were of the sea, practically 
wiped the exemption off the slate. 

In the eyes of the Regulating Captain no man 
was older than he looked, no lad as young as he 
avowed. Hence thousands of pressed men over 
fifty-five, who did not look the age they could not 
prove, figured on the books of the fleet with boys 
whose precocity of appearance gave the lie to their 
assertions. George Stephens, son of a clerk in the 
Transport Office, suffered impressment when barely 
thirteen ; and the son of a corporal in Lord Elkinton's 
regiment, one Alexander M'Donald, was 'listed in 
the same manner while still ''under the age of 
twelve."^ The gang did not pause by the way to 
discuss such questions. 

Apprentices fell into a double category — those 
bound to the sea, those apprenticed on land. Nomi- 
nally, the sea apprentice was protected from the 
impress for a term of three years from the date of his 
indentures, provided he had not used the sea before ; ^ 
while the land apprentice enjoyed immunity under 
the minimum age-limit of eighteen years. The 
proviso in the first case, however, left open a loop- 
hole the impress officer was never slow to take 
advantage of; and the minimum age-limit, as we 

"^ A(i. 7. 300— Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 43: "It is 
incumbent on those who claim to be exempted to prove the facts." 

^ Ad. I. 583— Vice-Admiral Hunter, 10 May 1813.- Ad. i. 1503— 
Capt. Butchart, 22 Jan. 1782, and enclosure. 

' 2 & 3 Anne, cap. 6, re-affirmed 13 George 11. cap. 17. 


have just seen, had little if any existence in fact. 
Apprentices pressed after the three years' exemption 
had expired were never given up, nor could their 
masters successfully claim them in law. They 
dropped like ripe fruit into the lap of Admiralty. On 
the other hand, apprentices pressed within the three 
years' exemption period were generally discharged, 
for if they were not, they could be freed by a writ of 
Habeas Corpus, or else the masters could maintain 
an action for damages against the Admiralty.^ 
'Prentices who "eloped" or ran away from their 
masters, and then entered voluntarily, could not be 
reclaimed by any known process at law if they were 
over eighteen years of age. On the whole, the 
position of the apprentice, whether by land or sea, 
was highly anomalous and uncertain. Often taken 
by the gang in the hurry of visiting a ship, or in 
the scurry of a hot press on shore, he was in effect 
the shuttlecock of the service, to-day singing merrily 
at his capstan or bench, to-morrow bewailing his 
hard fate on board a man- o'- war. 

When it came to the exemption of seamen. Ad- 
miralty found itself on the horns of a dilemma. Both 
the Navy and the merchant service depended in a very 
large degree upon the seaman who knew the ropes — 
who could take his turn at the wheel, scud aloft without 
going through the lubber-hole, and act promptly and 
sailorly in emergency. To take wholesale such men as 
these, while it would enormously enhance the effective- 
nessof His Majesty's ships ofwar,must inevitably cripple 
sea-borne trade. It was therefore necessary, for the 
well-being of both services, to discover the golden mean. 

* Ad. 7. 300— Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 25. 


According to statute law ^ every person using the 
sea, of what age soever he might be, was exempt from 
the impress for two years from the time of his first 
making the venture. The concession did not greatly 
improve the situation from a trade point of view. It 
merely touched the fringe of the problem, and Trade 
was insistent. 

A further concession was accordingly made. All 
masters, mates, boatswains and carpenters of vessels of 
fifty tons and upwards were exempted from the impress 
on condition of their going before a Justice of the Peace 
and making oath to their several qualifications. This 
affidavit, coupled with a succinct description of the 
deponent, constituted the holder's " protection " and 
shielded him, or was supposed to shield him, from mol- 
estation by the gang. Masters and mates of colliers, 
and of vessels laid up for the winter, came under this 
head ; but masters or mates of vessels detected in 
running dutiable goods, or caught harbouring deserters 
from the fleet, could be summarily dealt with notwith- 
standing their protections. The same fate befell the 
mate or apprentice who was lent by one ship to another. 

In addition to the executive of the vessel, as 
defined in the foregoing paragraph, it was of course 
necessary to extend protection to as many of her 
"hands" as were essential to her safe and efficient 
working. How many were really required for this 
purpose was, however, a moot point on which ship- 
masters and naval officers rarely saw eye to eye ; and 
since the arbiter in all such disputes was the ''quarter- 
deck gentlemen," the decision seldom if ever went in 
favour of the master. 

^ 13 George ii. cap. 17. 


The importance of the coal trade won for colliers 
an early concession, which left no room for differences 
of opinion. Every vessel employed in that trade was 
entitled to carry one exempt able-bodied man for each 
hundred units of her registered tonnage, provided it 
did not exceed three hundred. The penalty for 
pressing such men was ^lo for each man taken.^ 

On the coasts of Scotland commanders of war- 
ships whose carpenters had run or broken their leave, 
and who perhaps were left, like Capt. Gage of the 
Otter sloop, "without so much as a Gimblett on 
board," ^ might press shipwrights from the yards on 
shore to fill the vacancy, and suffer no untoward 
consequences ; but south of the Tweed this mode 
of collecting •* chips" was viewed with disfavour. 
There, although ship-carpenters, sailmakers and men 
employed in rope-walks were by a stretch of the 
official imagination reckoned as persons using the sea, 
and although they were generally acknowledged to be 
no less indispensable to the complete economy of a 
ship than the able-bodied seaman, legal questions of 
an extremely embarrassing nature nevertheless 
cropped up when the scene of their activities under- 
went too sudden and violent a change. The pressing 
of such artificers consequently met with little official 

Where the Admiralty scored, in the matter of 
ship protections, and scored heavily, was when the 
protected person went ashore. For when on shore 
the protected master, mate, boatswain, carpenter, 

^ 2 & 3 Anne, cap. 6. 

2 Ad. I. 1829— Capt. Gage, 29 Sept. 1742. 

' Ad, 7. 300— Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 2. 


apprentice or seaman no longer enjoyed protection 
unless he was there *'on ship's duty." The rule was 
most rigorously, not to say arbitrarily, enforced. Thus 
at Plymouth, in the year 1746, a seaman who pro- 
tested in broken English that he had come ashore 
to ''look after his master's sheep,'' was pressed 
because the naval officer who met and questioned 
him " imagined sheep to have no affinity with a 

Any mate who failed to register his name at the 
rendezvous, as soon as his ship arrived in port, did 
so at his peril. Without that formality he was " not 
entitled to liberty." So strict was the rule that when 
William Tassell, mate of the Elizabeth ketch, was 
caught drinking in a Lynn alehouse one night at ten 
o'clock, after having obtained "leave to run about 
the town " until eight only, he was immediately 
pressed and kept, the Admiralty refusing to declare 
the act irregular.^ 

In many ports it was customary for sailors to sleep 
ashore while their ships lay at the quay or at moor- 
ings. The proceeding was highly dangerous. No 
sailor ever courted sleep in such circumstances, even 
though armed with a "line from the master setting 

'^ Ad. I. 2381— Cskpt. John Roberts, ii July 1746. Capt. Roberts 
was a very downright individual, and years before the characteristic had 
got him into hot water. The occasion was when, in 17 12, an Admiralty 
letter, addressed to him at Harwich and containing important instruc- 
tions, by some mischance went astray and Roberts accused the Clerk of 
the Check of having appropriated it. The latter called him a liar, 
whereupon Roberts "gave him a slap in the face and bid him learn 
more manners." For this exhibition of temper he was superseded and 
kept on the half-pay list for some six years. Ad. i. 147 1 — Capt. Brand, 
8 March 1711-12. Ad. i. 2378, section 11, Admiralty note. 

^ Ad. I. 1546 — Capt. Bowyer, 25 July 1809, and enclosure. 


forth his business," without grave risk of waking to 
find himself in the bilboes. The Mayor of Poole once 
refused to " back " press- warrants for local use unless 
protected men belonging to trading vessels of the 
port were granted the privilege of lodging ashore. 
*' Certainly not!" retorted the Admiralty. "We 
cannot grant Poole an indulgence thai other towns do 
not enjoy y ^ 

In spite of the risk involved, the sailor slept ashore 
and — if he survived the night — tried to steal back to 
his ship in the grey of the morning. Now and then, 
by a run of luck, he made his offing in safety ; but 
more frequently he met the fate of John White of 
Bristol, who was taken by the gang when only " about 
ninety yards from his vessel." 

The only exceptions to this stringent rule were 
certain classes of men engaged in the Greenland 
and South Seas whale fisheries. Skilled harpooners, 
linesmen and boat-steerers, on their return from a 
whaling cruise, could obtain from any Collector of 
Customs, for sufficient bond put in, a protection from 
the impress which no Admiralty regulation, however 
sweeping, could invalidate or override. Safeguarded 
by this document, they were at liberty to live and work 
ashore, or to sail in the coal trade, until such time as 
they should be required to proceed on another whaling 
voyage. If, however, they took service on board any 
vessel other than a collier, they forfeited their protec- 
tions and could be "legally detained."^ 

In one ironic respect the gang strongly resembled 

^ Ad. I. 2485 — Capt. Scott, 4 Jan. 1780, and endorsement. 
* 13 George II. cap. 28. Ad. i. 2732— Capt. Young, 14 March 1756. 
Ad. 7. 300 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 42. 


a boomerang. So thoroughly and impartially did it 
do its work that it recoiled upon those who used it. 
The evil was one of long standing. Pepys complained 
of it bitterly in his day, asserting that owing to its 
prevalence letters could neither be received nor sent, 
and that the departmental machinery for victualling 
and arminor the fleet was like to be undone. With 


the growth of pressing the imposition was carried to 
absurd lengths. The crews of the impress tenders, 
engaged in conveying pressed men to the fleet, could 
not ** proceed down " without falling victims to the 
very service they were employed in.^ To check 
this egregious robbing of Peter to pay Paul, both the 
Navy Board and the Government were obliged to 
" protect " their own sea-going hirelings, and even 
then the protections were not always effective. 

Between the extremes represented by the lands- 
man who enjoyed nominal exemption and the 
seaman who enjoyed none, there existed a middle or 
amphibious class of persons who lived exclusively on 
neither land nor water, but habitually used both in 
the pursuit of their various callings. These were the 
wherry or watermen, the lightermen, bargemen, 
keelmen, trowmen and canal-boat dwellers frequent- 
ing mainly the inland waterways of the country. 

In the reign of Richard ii. the jurisdiction of 
Admirals was defined as extending, in a certain 
particular, to the ''main stream of great rivers nigh 
the sea." ^ Had the same line of demarcation been 
observed in the pressing of those whose occupations 
lay upon rivers, there would have been little cause for 

^ Ad. I. i486 — Capt. Baird, 27 Feb. 1755, and numerous instances. 
^ 15 Richard 11. cap. 2. 


outcry or complaint. But the Admiralty, the suc- 
cessors of the ancient " Guardians of the Sea " whose 
powers were so clearly limited by the Ricardian 
statute, gradually extended the old-time jurisdiction 
until, for the purposes of the impress, it included all 
waterways, whether "nigh the sea" or inland, natural 
or artificial, whereon it was possible for craft to 
navigate. All persons working upon or habitually 
using such waterways were regarded as '* using the 
sea," and later warrants expressly authorised the 
gangs to take as many of them as they should be able, 
not excepting even the ferryman. The extension 
was one of tremendous consequence, since it swept 
into the Navy thousands of men who, like the Ely 
and Cambridge bargemen, were "hardy, strong 
fellows, who never failed to make good seamen."^ 

Amongst these denizens of the country's water- 
ways the position of the Thames wherryman was 
peculiar in that from very early times he had been 
exempt from the ordinary incidence of the press on 
condition of his periodically supplying from his own 
numbers a certain quota of able-bodied men for the 
use of the fleet. The rule applied to all watermen 
using the river between Gravesend and Windsor, 
and members of the fraternity who " withdrew and 
hid themselves " at the time of the making of such 
levies, were liable to be imprisoned for two years and 
"banished any more to row for a year and a day."^ 
The exemption he otherwise enjoyed appears to have 
conduced not a little to the waterman's proverbial 
joviality. As a youth he spent his leisure in " dancing 

^ Ad I. i486— Capt. Baird, 29 April 1755. 
2 2 & 3 Philip and Mary, cap. 16. 


and carolling," thus earning the familiar sobriquet of 
** the jolly young waterman." Even so, his tenure of 
happiness was anything but secure. With the naval 
officer and the gang he was no favourite, and few 
opportunities of dashing his happiness were allowed 
to pass unimproved. In the person of John Golden, 
however, they caught a Tartar. To the dismay of 
the Admiralty and the officer responsible for pressing 
him, he proved to be one of my Lord Mayor's 

Apart from the watermen of the Thames, the 
purchase of immunity from the press by periodic 
levies met with little favour, and though the levy was 
in many cases reluctantly adopted, it was only because 
it entailed the lesser of two evils. The basis of such 
levies varied from one man in ten to one in five — a 
percentage which the Admiralty considered a " matter 
of no distress " ; and the penalty for refusing to 
entertain them was wholesale pressing. 

The Tyne keelmen, while ostensibly consenting 
to buy immunity on this basis, seldom levied the quota 
upon themselves. By offering bounties they drew 
the price of their freedom to work in the keels from 
outside sources. Lord Thurlow confessed that he 
did not know what " working in the keels " meant." 
There were few in the fleet who could have enlight- 
ened him of their own experience. The keelmen 
kept th'eir ranks as far as possible intact. In this 
they were materially aided by the Mayor and 
Corporation of Newcastle, who held a " Grand Pro- 
tection " of the Admiralty, and in return for this 

^ Ad, I. 2733 — Capt. Young, 7 March 1756. 

* Ad. 7. 299 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1752-77, No. 70. 


exceptional mark of their Lordships' favour did all 
they could to further the pressing of persons less 
essential to the trade of the town and river than were 
their own keelmen. 

On the rivers Severn and Wye there was plying 
in 1806 a flotilla of ninety-eight trows, ranging in 
capacity from sixty to one hundred and thirty tons, 
and employing five hundred and eighty-eight men, of 
whom practically all enjoyed exemption from the 
press. It being a time of exceptional stress for 
men, the Admiralty considered this proportion ex- 
cessive, and Capt. Barker, at that time regulating 
the press at Bristol, was ordered to negotiate terms. 
He proposed a contribution of trowmen on the basis 
of one in every ten, coupling the suggestion with 
a thinly veiled threat that if it were not complied 
with he would set his gangs to work and take all 
he could get. The Association of Severn Traders, 
finding themselves thus placed between the devil 
and the deep sea, agreed to the proposal with a 
reluctance they in vain endeavoured to hide under 
ardent protestations of loyalty.^ 

In the three hundred "flats " engaged in carrying 
salt, coals and other commodities between Nantwich 
and Liverpool there were employed, in 1795, some nine 
hundred men who had up to that time largely escaped 
the attentions of the gang. In that year, however, 
an arrangement was entered into, under duress of the 
usual threat, to the effect that they should contribute 
one man in six, or at the least one man in nine, in return 
for exemption to be granted to the remainder.^ 

1 Ad. I. 1537 — Capt. Barker, 24 April and 9 May 1806, and enclosure. 
^ Ad. I. 578— Admiral Pringle, Report on Rendezvous, 2 April 1795. 


Turf-boats plying on the Blackwater and the 
Shannon seem to have enjoyed no special conces- 
sions. The men working them were pressed when- 
ever they could be laid hold of, and if they were not 
always kept, their discharge was due to reasons of 
physical unfitness rather than to any acknowledged 
right to labour unmolested. Ireland's contribution 
to the fleet, apart from the notoriously disaffected, 
was of too much consequence to be played with ; for 
the Irishman was essentially a good-natured soul, and 
when his native indolence and slowness of movement 
had been duly corrected by a judicious use of the 
rattan and the rope's-end, his services were highly 
esteemed in His Majesty's ships of war. 

In the category of exemptions the fisheries 
occupied a place entirely their own. They were 
carefully fostered, but indifferently protected. 

Previous to the year 1729 the most important 
concession granted to those engaged in the taking of 
fish was the establishing of two extra " Fishe Dayes " 
in the week. The provision was embodied in a 
statute of 1563, whereby the people were required, 
under a penalty of ^3 for each omission, *'or els 
three monethes close Imprisonment without Baile or 
Maineprise," to eat fish, to the total exclusion of 
meat, on Fridays and Saturdays, and to content 
themselves with ''one dish of flesh to three dishes 
of fish" on Wednesdays.^ The enactment had no 
religious significance whatever ; but in order to avoid 
any suspicion of Popish tendencies it was deemed 
advisable, by those responsible for the measure, to 
saddle it with a rider to the effect that all persons 
1 5 Elizabeth, cap. 5. 


teaching, preaching or proclaiming the eating of fish, 
as enjoined by the Act, to be of *' necessitee for the 
saving of the soule of man," should be punished as 
"spreaders of fause newes." The true significance 
of the measure lay in this. The abolition of Romish 
fast-days had resulted, since the Reformation, in an 
enormous falling off in the consumption offish, and this 
decrease had in turn played havoc with the fisheries. 
Now the fisheries were in reality the national incubator 
for seamen, and Cecil, Elizabeth's astute Secretary of 
State, perceiving in their decadence a grave menace 
to the manning of prospective fleets, determined, for 
that reason if for no other, to reanimate the dying 
industry. The Act in question was the practical 
outcome of his deliberations.^ 

An enactment which combined so happily the 
interests of the fisher classes with those of national 
defence could not but be productive of far-reaching 
consequences. The fishing industry not only throve 
exceedingly because of it, it in time became, as Cecil 
clearly foresaw it would become, a nursery for seamen 
and a feeder of the fleet as unrivalled for the 
excellence of its material as it was inexhaustible in 
its resources. Its prosperity was in fact its curse. 
Few exemptions were granted it. Adventurers after 
whale and cod had special concessions, suited to the 
peculiar conditions of their calling ; but with these 
exceptions craft of every description employed in the 
taking or the carrying of fish, for a very protracted 
period enjoyed only such exemptions as were grudg- 
ingly extended to sea-going craft in general. The 

1 S/a^e Papers Domestic^ Elizabeth, vol. xxvii. Nos. 71 and 72, 
comprising Cecil's original memoranda. 


source of supply represented by the leviathan industry 
was too valuable to be lightly restricted. 

On the other hand, it was too important to be 
lightly depleted. Therefore under Cecil's Act estab- 
lishing extra *' Fishe Dayes," no fisherman "using 
or haunting the sea " could be pressed off-hand to 
serve in the Queen's Navy. The "taker," as the 
press-master was at that time called, was obliged to 
carry his warrant to the Justice^ inhabiting the place 
or places where it was proposed that the fishermen 
should be pressed, and of these Justices any two were 
empowered to " choose out such nomber of hable 
men" as the warrant specified. In this way 
originated the "backing" or endorsing of warrants 
by the civil power. At first obligatory only as 
regards the pressing of fishermen, it came to be 
regarded in time as an essential preliminary to all 
pressing done on land. 

No further provision of a special nature would 
appear to have been made for the protecting of fisher 
folk from the press until the year 1729, when an 
exemption was granted which covered the master, 
one apprentice, one seaman and one landsman for 
each vessel.^ In 1801, however, a sweeping change 
was inaugurated. A statute of that date provided 
that no person engaged in the taking, curing or selling 
of fish should be impressed.^ The exemption came too 
late to prove substantially beneficial to an industry 
which had suffered incalculable injury from the then 
recent wars. The press-gang was already nearing 
its last days. 

Prior to the Act of 1801 persons whose sole 

^ 2 George n. cap. 15, ^ /\i George iii, cap. 21. 


occupation was "to pick oysters and mussels at low 
water" were accounted fishermen and habitually 
pressed as "using the sea." 

The position of the smaller fry of fishermen is 
thrown into vivid relief by an official communique of 
1709 as opposed to an incident of later date. *' These 
poor people," runs the note, which was addressed to 
a naval commander who had pressed a fisherman out 
of a boat of less than three tons, " have been always 
protected for the support of their indigent families, 
and therefore they must not be taken into the service 
unless there is a pressing occasion, and then they will 
be all forced thereinto r^ Captain Boscawen, writing 
from the Nore in 1745, supplies the antithesis. He 
had been instructed to procure half a dozen fishing 
smacks, each of not less than sixty tons burden, for 
transport purposes. None were to be had. "The 
reason the fishermen give for not employing vessels 
of that size," he states, in explanation of the fact, "is 
that all the young men are pressed, and that the old 
men and boys are not able to work them."^ 

Conditions such as these in time taught the fisher- 
man wisdom, and he awoke to the fact that exemption 
for a consideration, as in the case of workers on rivers 
and canals, was preferable to paying through the nose. 
The Admiralty was never averse from driving a 
bargain of this description. It saved much distress, 
much bad blood, much good money. In this way 
Worthing fishermen bought exemption in 1780. The 
fishery of that town was then in its infancy, the people 
engaged in it "very poor and needy." They em- 

1 Ad. I. 2377— Capt. Robinson, 4 Feb. 1708-9, and endorsement. 
* Ad, I. 1481— Capt. Boscawen, 23 Dec. 1745. 


ployed only sixteen boats. Yet they found it 
cheaper to contribute five men to the Navy, at a cost 
of ^40 in bounties, than to entertain the gang/ 

The Orkney fisherman bought his freedom, both 
on his fishing-grounds and when carrying his catch 
to market, on similar terms ; but being a person of 
frugal turn of mind, he gradually developed the 
habit of withholding his stipulated quota. The un- 
expected arrival in his midst of an armed smack, 
followed by a spell of vigorous pressing, taught him that 
to be penny-wise is sometimes to be pound-foolish.^ 

On the Scottish coasts fishermen and ferrymen — 
the latter a numerous class on that deeply indented 
seaboard — offered up one man in every five or six on 
the altar of protection. The sacrifice distressed them 
less than indiscriminate pressing. A prosperous 
people, they chose out those of their number who 
could best be spared, supporting the families thus 
left destitute by common subscription. Buss fisher- 
men, who followed the migratory herring from fishing- 
ground to fishing-ground, were in another category. 
Their contribution, when on the Scottish coast, 
figured out at a man per buss ; but as they were for 
some inscrutable reason called upon to pay similar 
tribute on other parts of the coast, they cannot be said 
to have escaped any too lightly. Neither did the 
four hundred fishing-boats composing the Isle of Man 
fleet. Their crews were obliged to surrender one 
man in every seven.^ 

1 Ad. I. 1446— Capt. Alms, 2 Jan. 1780. 

2 Ad. I. 2740— Lieut. Abbs, 11 May 1798, and Admiralty note. 

^ Ad. I. 579— Admiral Pringle, Report on Rendezvous, 2 April 1795 5 
Admiral Philip, Report on Rendezvous, i Aug. 1801, 


Opinions as to the value of material drawn from 
these sources differed widely. The buss fisherman 
was on all hands acknowledged to be a seasoned 
sailor ; but when it came to those employed in smaller 
craft, it was held that heaving at the capstan for a 
matter of only six or seven weeks in the year could 
never convert raw lads into useful seamen, even though 
they continued that healthful form of exercise all 
their lives. This was the view entertained by the 
masters of fishing-smacks smarting from loss of 
- hands." ^ 

x^dmiralty saw things in quite another light. 
" What you admit," said their Lordships, expressing 
the counter-view, "it is our business to prevent. We 
will therefore take these lads, who are admittedly of 
no service to you save for hauling in your nets or 
getting your anchors, and will make of them what 
you, on your own showing, can never make — able 
seamen." The argument, backed as it was by the 
strong arm of the press-gang, was unanswerable. 

The fact that the fisherman passed much of his 
time on shore did not free him from the press any 
more than it freed the waterman, or the worker in 
keel or trow. In his main vocation he ''used the 
sea," and that was enough. For the use of the sea 
was the rule and standard by which every man's 
liability to the press was supposed to be measured 
and determined. 

Except in the case of masters, mates and ap- 
prentices to the sea, whose affidavits or indentures 
constituted their respective safeguards against the 
press, every person exempt from that infliction, 

1 Ad. I. 1497 — Thomas Hurry, master, 3 March 1777. 


whether by statute law or Admiralty indulgence, was 
required to have in his possession an official voucher 
setting forth the fact and ground of his exemption. 
This document was ironically termed his " pro- 

Admiralty protections were issued under the hand 
of the Lord High Admiral ; ordinary protections, by 
departments and persons who possessed either dele- 
gated or vested powers of issue. Thus each Trinity 
House protected its own pilots ; the Customs protected 
whale fishermen and apprentices to the sea ; impress 
officers protected seamen temporarily lent to ships 
in lieu of men taken out of them by the gangs. Some 
protections were issued for a limited period and lapsed 
when that period expired ; others were of perpetual 
"force," unless invalidated by some irregular acton 
the part of the holder. No protection was good 
unless it bore a minute description of the person to 
whom it applied, and all protections had to be carried 
on the person and produced upon demand. Thomas 
Moverty was pressed out of a wherry in the Thames 
owing to his having changed his clothes and left his 
protection at home ; and John Scott of Mistley, in 
Suffolk, was taken whilst working in his shirtsleeves, 
though his protection lay in the pocket of his jacket, 
only a few yards away.^ 

The most trifling irregularity in the protection 
itself, or the slightest discrepancy between the personal 
appearance of the bearer and the written description 
of him, was enough to convert the protection into so 
much waste paper and the bearer into a naval seaman. 

^ Ad. I. 1479— Capt. Bridges, 11 August 1743. Ad. i. 1531— Capt. 
Ballard, 15 March 1804, and enclosure. 

102: ;•:,•.•; : THEi-PRESS-GANG 

North-country'* apprentices, whose indentures bore 
a 14s. stamp in accordance with Scottish law, 
were pressed because that document did not bear 
a 15s. stamp according to English law. A sea- 
man was in one instance described in his protec- 
tion as "smooth-faced," that is, beardless. The 
impress officer scrutinised him closely. " Aha ! " said 
he, "you are not smooth-faced. You are pock- 
marked " ; and he pressed the poor fellow for that 

To be over-protected was as bad as having no 
protection at all. Thomas Letting, a collier's man, 
and John Anthony of the merchant ship Providence, 
learnt this fact to their cost when they were taken out 
of their respective ships for having each two pro- 
tections. In short, the slightest pretext served. If 
a protection had but a few more days to run ; if the 
name, date, place or other essential particular showed 
signs of "coaxing," that is, of having been "on 
purpose rubbed out " or altered ; if a man's description 
did not figure in his protection, or if it figured on the 
back instead of in the margin, or in the margin instead 
of on the back ; if his face wore a ruddy rather than 
a pale look, if his hair were red when it ought to 
have been brown, if he proved to be " tall and remark- 
able thin " when he should have been middle-sized 
and thick-set — in any of these, as in a hundred and 
one similar cases, the bearer of the protection paid 
the penalty for what the impress officer regarded as 
a "hoodwinking attempt" to cheat the King's service 
of an eligible man. 

Notwithstanding the fact that the impress officer 
regarded every pressable man as a person who made 


it his chief business in life to defraud the Navy of his 
services on the ''miserable plea of a protection," it by 
no means followed that his zeal in pressing him on 
that account had in every case the countenance or 
met with the unqualified approval of the Admiralty. 
Thousands of men and boys taken in this irresponsible 
fashion obtained their discharge, though with more 
or less difficulty and delay, when the facts of the case 
were laid before the naval authorities ; and in general 
it may be said, that although the Lords Commissioners 
were only too ready to wink at any colourable excuse 
whereby another physical unit might be added to the 
fleet, they nevertheless laid it down as a rule, inviol- 
able at least on paper, ** never to press any man 
from protections," since it brought " great trouble and 
clamour upon them."^ To assert that the rule was 
generally obeyed would be to turn the truth into a lie. 
On the contrary, it was almost universally disregarded. 
Both officers and gangs traversed it on every possible 
occasion, leaving the justice or injustice of the act to 
the arbitrament of the higher tribunal. Zeal for the 
service was no crime, and to release a man was always 
so much easier than to catch him. 

*' Pressing from protections," as the phrase ran in 
the service, did not therefore mean that the Admiralty 
over- rode its own protections at pleasure. It merely 
signified that on occasion more than ordinarily 
stringent measures were adopted for the holding-up 
and examining of all protected persons, or of as many 
of them as could be got at by the gangs, to the end 
that all false or fraudulent vouchers might be weeded 
out and the dishonest bearers of them consigned to 

1 Ad. 3. 50— Admiralty Minutes, 26 Feb. 1744-5. 


another place. And yet there were times when 
"pressing from protections" had its plenary signi- 
ficance too. 

Lovers of prints who are familiar with Hogarth's 
** Stage Coach ; or, a Country Inn Yard," date 1747, 
will readily recall the two "outsides" — the one a 
down-in-the-mouth soldier, the other a jolly Jack-tar 
on whose bundle may be read the word *' Centurion." 
Now the Centurion was Anson's flag-ship, and in 
this print Hogarth has incidentally recorded the fact 
that her crew, on their return from that famous 
voyage round the world, were awarded life- protections 
from the press. ^ 

The life-protection was an indulgence extended 
to few. Samuel Davidson of Newcastle, sailor, aged 
fifty, who had " served for nine years during the late 
wars," in 1777 made bold to plead that fact as a reason 
why he should be freed from the attentions of the 
press-gang for the rest of his life. But the Lords 
Commissioners refused to admit the plea "unless he 
was in a position not inferior to that of chief mate." 
On the other hand, Henry Love of Hastings, who 
had merely served in a single Dutch expedition, but 
had the promise of Pitt and Dundas that both he and 
those who volunteered with him should never be 
pressed, was immediately discharged when that 
calamity befell him.^ 

The granting of extraordinary protections was 
thus something entirely erratic and not to be counted 
upon. Captain Balchen in 1708 had special pro- 
tections for ten of his ship's company whom he 

^ Ad. I. 1440— Capt. Anson, 24 July 1744. 
^ Ad. I. 1449 — Capt. Columbine, 21 July 1800. 


desired to bring to London as witnesses in a suit then 
pending against him ; but the building of tfhe three 
earlier Eddystone lighthouses was allowed to be 
seriously impeded by the pressing of the unprotected 
workmen when on shore at Plymouth, and the keepers 
of the first erection of that name were once carried 
off bag and baggage by the gang. 

Smeaton, who built the third Eddystone, protected 
his men by means of silver badges, and his store- 
boat enjoyed similar immunity — presumably with the 
consent of Admiralty — by reason of a picture of the 
lighthouse painted on her sail. Other great con- 
structors, as well as rich mercantile firms, bought 
protection at a price. They supplied a stipulated 
number of men for the fleet, and found the arrange- 
ment a highly convenient one for ridding themselves 
of those who were useless to them or had incurred their 

Private protections, of which great numbers saw 
the light, were in no case worth the paper they were 
written on. Joseph Bettesworth of Ryde, Isle of 
Wight, Attorney-at-Law and Lord of the Manor of 
Ashey and Ryde, by virtue of an ancient privilege 
pertaining to that Manor and confirmed by royal 
Letters Patent, in 1790 protected some twenty sea- 
faring men to work his " Antient Ferry or Passage 
for the Wafting of Passengers to and from Ride, Ports- 
mouth and Gosport, in a smack of about 14 tons, and 
a wherry." The regulating captain at the last-named 
place asked what he should do about it. '' Press every 
man as soon as possible," replied their Lordships.^ 

^ Ad. I. 583— Admiral Thornborough, 30 Nov. 18 13. 

^ Ad. I. 1506 — Capt. John Bligh, June 1790, and enclosure. 



**A MAN we want, and a man we must have," was 
the naval cry of the century.^ 

Nowhere was the cry so loud or so insistent as on 
the sea, where every ship of war added to its volume. 
In times of peace, when the demand for men was 
gauged by those every-day factors, sickness, death 
and desertion, it dwindled, if it did not altogether 
die away ; but given a war-cloud on the near horizon 
and the cry for men swelled, as many-voiced as there 
were keels in the fleet, to a sudden clamour of for- 
midable proportions — a clamour that only the most 
strenuous and unremitting exertions could in any 
measure appease. 

Every navy is argus-eyed, and in crises such as 
these, when the very existence of the nation was 
perhaps at stake, it was first and principally towards 
the crews of the country's merchant ships that the 
eyes of the Navy were directed ; for, shipboard life 
and shipboard duty being largely identical in both 
services, no elaborate training was required to con- 
vert the merchant sailor into a first-rate man-o'-war's- 
man. The ships of both services were sailing ships. 
Both, as a rule, went armed. Hence, not only was 

1 Ad. I. 1531 — Deposition of John Swinburn, 28 July 1804. 


the merchant sailor an able seaman, he was also 
trained in the handling of great guns, and in the use 
of the cutlass, the musket and the boarding-pike. In 
a word, he was that most valuable of all assets to a 
people seeking to dominate the sea — a man-o'-war's- 
man ready-made, needing only to be called in in 
order to become immediately effective. 

The problem was how to catch him — how to take 
him fresh and vigorous from his deep-sea voyaging — 
how to enroll him in the King's Navy ere he got ashore 
with a pocketful of money and relaxed his hardened 
muscles in the uncontrolled debauchery he was so 
partial to after long abstention. 

A device of the simplest yet of the most elaborate 
description met the difficulty. It was based upon the 
fact that to take the sailor afloat was a much easier 
piece of strategy than to ferret him out of his hiding- 
places after he got ashore. The impress trap was 
therefore set in such a way as to catch him before he 
reached the land. 

With infinite ingenuity and foresight sea-gangs 
were picketed from harbour to harbour, from head- 
land to headland, until they formed an almost un- 
broken chain around the coasts and guarded the 
sailor's every point of accustomed approach from 
overseas. This was the outer cordon of the system, 
the beginning of the gauntlet the returning sailor had 
to run, and he was a smart seaman indeed who could 
successfully negotiate the uncharted rocks and shoals 
with which the coast was everywhere strewn in his 

The composition of this chain of sea-gangs was 
mixed to a degree, yet singularly homogeneous. 


First of all, on its extreme outer confines, perhaps 
as far down Channel as the Scillies, or as far north 
as the thirteen-mile stretch of sea running between 
the Mull of Kintyre and the Irish coast, where the 
trade for Liverpool, Whitehaven, Dublin and the 
Clyde commonly came in, the homing sailor would 
suddenly descry, bearing down upon him under press 
of sail, the trim figure of one of His Majesty's fri- 
gates, or the clean, swift lines of an armed sloop. 
The meeting was no chance one. Both the frigate and 
the sloop were there by design, the former cruising to 
complete her own complement, the latter to complete 
that of some ship-of-the-line at Plymouth, Spithead or 
the Nore, to which she stood in the relation of tender. 

Tenders were vessels taken into the king's service 
"at the time of Impressing Seamen." Hired at 
certain rates per month, they continued in the service 
as long as they were required, often most unwillingly, 
and were principally employed in obtaining men for 
the king's ships or in matters relative thereto. In 
burden they varied from thirty or forty to one 
hundred tons,^ the smaller craft hugging the coast 
and dropping in from port to port, the larger cruising 
far beyond shore limits. For deep-sea or trade-route 
cruising the smaller craft were of little use. No ship 
of force would bring-to for them. 

While press-warrants were supplied regularly to 
every warship, no matter what her rating, the supply 
of tenders was less general and much more erratic. 
It was only when occasion demanded it, and then 

^ This was the maximum tonnage for which the Navy Board paid, 
but when trade was slack larger vessels could be had, and were as a 
matter of fact frequently employed, at the nominal tonnage rate. 


only to ships of the first, second and third rate, that 
tenders were assigned for the purpose of bringing 
their crews up to full strength. The urgency of the 
occasion, the men to be "rose," the diplomacy of the 
commander determined the number. A tender to 
each ship was the rule, but however parsimonious the 
Navy Board might be on such occasions, a carefully 
worded appeal to its prejudices seldom failed to pro- 
duce a second, or even a third attendant vessel. 
Boscawen once had recourse to this ingenious ruse 
in order to obtain tender number two. The Navy 
Board detested straggling seamen, so he suggested 
that, with several tenders lying idle in the Thames, 
his men might be far more profitably employed than 
in straggling about town. " Most reprehensible 
practice ! " assented the Board, and placed a second 
vessel at his disposal without more ado. Lieut. 
Upton was immediately put in charge of her and 
ordered seawards. He returned within a week with 
twenty-seven men, pressed out of merchantmen in 
Margate Roads.^ 

The tender assigned to Boscawen on this occasion 
was the Galloper, an American-built vessel, ''rigged 
in the manner the West Indians do their sloops." 
Her armament consisted of six 9-pounders and 
threescore small-arms, but as a sea-boat she belied 
her name, for she was hopelessly sluggish under sail, 
and the great depth of her waist, and her consequent 
liability to ship seas in rough weather, rendered her 
"very improper" for cruising in the Channel. 

For her company she had a master, a mate and 
six hands supplied by the owners, in addition to 
1 Ad. I. 1478— Letters of Capt. Boscawen, July and August 1743. 


thirty-four seamen temporarily drafted into her from 
Bosca wen's ship, the Dreadnought. It was the duty 
of the former to work the vessel, of the latter to do 
the pressing ; but these duties were largely inter- 
changeable. All were under the command of the 
lieutenant, who with forty-two men at his beck and 
call could organise, on a pinch, five gangs of formid- 
able strength and yet leave sufficient hands, given 
fair weather, to mind the tender in their temporary 
absence. Tender's men were generally the flower of 
a ship's company, old hands of tried fidelity, equal to 
any emergency and reputedly proof against bribery, 
rum and petticoats. Yet the temptation to give duty 
the slip and enjoy the pleasures of town for a season 
sometimes proved too strong, even for them, and we 
read of one boat's-crew of ei^ht, who, overcome in 
this way, were discovered after many days in a 
French prison. Instead of going pressing in the 
Downs, they had gone to Boulogne. 

On the commanders of His Majesty's ships the 
onus of raising men fell with intolerable insistence. 
Nelson's greatest pleasure in his promotion to 
Admiral's rank is said to have been derived from the 
fact that with it there came a blessed cessation to the 
scurvy business of pressing ; and there were in the 
service few captains, whether before or after Nelson's 
day, who could not echo with hearty approval the 
sentiment of Capt. Brett of the Roebuck, when he 
said : " I can solemnly declare that the getting and 
taking care of my men has given me more trouble 
and uneasiness than all the rest of my duty."^ 

Commanders of smaller and less effective ships 
^ Ad. I. 1478— Capt. Brett, 27 Oct. 1742. 


found themselves on the horns of a cruel dilemma did 
they dare to ask for tenders. Beg and pray as they 
would, these were rarely allowed them save as a 
special indulgence or a crying necessity. To most 
applications from this source the Admiralty opposed 
a front well calculated ''to encourage the others." 
" If he has not men enough to proceed on service," 
ran its dictum, " their Lordships will lay up the ship." ^ 
Faced with the summary loss of his command, their 
Lordships' high displeasure, and consequent inactivity 
and half-pay for an indefinite period, the captain 
whose complement was short, and who could obtain 
neither men nor tender from the constituted authority, 
had no option but to put to sea with such hands as 
he already bore and there beat up for others. This, 
with their Lordships' gracious permission, he accord- 
ingly did, thus adding another unit to the fleet of 
armed vessels already prowling the Narrow Seas on 
a similar errand. It can be readily imagined that 
such commanders were not out for pleasure. 

To the great and incessantly active flotilla got to- 
gether in this way, the regulating captains on shore 
contributed a further large contingent. Every seaport 
of consequence had its rendezvous, every seaport 
rendezvous its amphibious gang or gangs who ranged 
the adjacent coast for many leagues in swift bottoms 
whose character and mission often remained wholly 
unsuspected until some skilful manoeuvre laid them 
aboard their intended victim and brought the gang 
swarming over her decks, armed to the teeth and 
resolute to press her crew. 

^ Ad. I. 1471 — Capt. Boyle, i March 1715-6, endorsement, and 
numerous instances. 


We have now three classes of vessels, of varying 
build, rig, tonnage and armament, engaged in a 
common endeavour to intercept and take the homing 
sailor. Let us next see how they were disposed 
upon the coast. 

Tenders from Greenwich and Blackwall ransacked 
the Thames below bridge as far as Blackstakes in 
the river Medway, the Nore and the Swin channel. 
Tenders from Margate, Ramsgate, Deal and Dover 
watched the lower Thames estuary, swept the Downs, 
and kept a sharp lookout along the coasts of Kent 
and Sussex, of Essex and of Norfolk. To these 
tenders from Lynn dipped their colours off Wells-on- 
Sea or Cromer, whence they bore away for the mouth 
of Humber, where Hull tenders took up the running 
till met by those belonging to Sunderland, Newcastle- 
upon-Tyne and Shields, which in turn joined up the 
cordon with others hailing from Leith and the Firth 
of Forth. Northward of the Forth, away to the 
extreme Orkneys, and all down the west coast of 
Scotland through the two Minches and amongst the 
Hebrides, specially armed sloops from Leith and 
Greenock made periodic cruises. Greenock tenders, 
again, united with tenders from Belfast and White- 
haven in a lurking watch for ships making home ports 
by way of the North Channel ; or circled the Isle of 
Man, ran thence across to Morecambe Bay, and so 
down the Lancashire coast the length of Formby 
Head, where the Mersey tenders, alert for the 
Jamaica trade, relieved them of their vigil. Dublin 
tenders guarded St. George's Channel, aided by 
others from Mil ford Haven and Haverfordwest. 
Bristol tenders cruised the channel of that name, 


keeping a sharp eye on Lundy Island and the 
Holmes, where shipmasters were wont to play them 
tricks if they were not watchful. Falmouth and Ply- 
mouth tenders guarded the coast from Land's End 
to Pordand Bill, Portsmouth tenders from Pordand 
Bill to Beachy Head, and Folkestone and Dover 
tenders from Beachy Head to the North Foreland, 
thus completing the encircling chain. Nor was 
Ireland forgotten in the general sea-rummage. As a 
converging point for the great overseas trade-routes 
it was of prime importance, and tenders hailing from 
Belfast, Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, or 
making those places their chief ports of call, exercised 
unceasing vigilance over all the coast. 

In this general scouring of the coastal waters of 
the kingdom certain points were of necessity subjected 
to a much closer surveillance than others. Particularly 
was this true of the sea routes followed by the East 
and West India, and the Baltic, Virginia, Newfound- 
land, Dutch and Greenland trades, where these con- 
verged upon such centres of world-commerce as 
London, Poole, Bristol, Liverpool and the great 
northern entrepots on the Forth and Clyde, the 
Humber and the Tyne. A tender stationed off 
Poole, when a Newfoundland fish-convoy was ex- 
pected in, never failed to reap a rich harvest. At 
Highlake, near the mouth of the Mersey, many a 
fine haul was made from the sugar and rum-laden 
Jamaica ships, the privateers and slavers from which 
Liverpool drew her wealth. Early in the century 
sloops of war had orders "to cruise between Beechy 
and the Downs to Impress men out of homeward- 
bound Merchant Ships," and in 1755 Rodney's lieu- 


tenants found the Channel "full of tenders." Except 
in times of profound peace — few and brief in the 
century under review — it was rarely or never in any 
other state. An ocean highway so congested with 
the winged vehicles of commerce could not escape the 
constant vigilance of those whose business it was to 
waylay the inward-bound sailor. 

A favourite station in the Channel was **at y'' west 
end of y*" Isle of Wight, near Hurst Castle," where 
the watchful tender, having under her eye all ships 
coming from the westward, as well as all passing 
through the Needles, could press at pleasure by the 
simple expedient of sending gangs aboard of them. 
At certain times of the year such ports as Grimsby, 
Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft and Brixham came in for 
similar attention. When the fleets were due back 
from the " Great Fishery " on the Dogger Banks, 
tenders cruising off those ports netted more men than 
they could find room for ; and so heavy was the 
tribute paid in this way by the fishermen of the last- 
named port in 1805, that ''not a single man was to 
be found in Brixham liable to the impress." Every 
unprotected man, out of a total of ninety-six fishing- 
smacks then belonging to the place, had been snapped 
up by the tenders and ships of war cruising off the 
bay or further up-Channel.^ 

The double cordon composed of ships and tenders 
on the cruise by no means exhausted the resources 
called into play for the intercepting of the sailor afloat. 
Still nearer the land was a third or innermost line 
composed of boat-gangs operating, like so many of 

1 Ad. I. 581— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 15 Sept. 


the tenders, from rendezvous on shore, or from ships 
of war lying in dock or riding at anchor. Less con- 
tinuous than the outer cordon, it was not less effective, 
and many a sailor who by strategy or good luck had 
all but won through, struck his flag to the gang when 
perhaps only the cast of a line separated him from 
shore and liberty. 

It was across the entrance to harbours and navig- 
able estuaries that this innermost line was most 
frequently and most successfully drawn. Pill, the 
pilot station for the port of Bristol, threw out such a 
line to the further bank of Avon and thereby caught 
many an able seaman who had evaded the tenders 
below King Road. On Southampton Water it was 
generally so impassable that few men who could in 
the slightest degree be considered liable to the press 
escaped its toils.^ Dublin Bay knew it well. A 
press **on float" there, carried out silently and swiftly 
in the grey of a September morning, 1801, whilst the 
mists still hung thick over the water, resulted in the 
seizure of seventy-four seamen who had eluded the 
press-smacks cruising without the bay ; but of this 
number two proving to be protected apprentices, the 
Lord Mayor sent the Water Bailiff of the city, ''with 
a detachment of the army," and took them by force 
out of the hands of the gang.^ On the Thames, not- 
withstanding the ceaseless activity of the outer 
cordons, the innermost line of capture yielded enor- 
mously. The night of October the 28th, 1776, saw 
three hundred and ninety-nine men, the greater part 

^ Ad, I. 581— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 5 Aug. 

* Ad. I. 1526— Capt. Brabazon, 16 Sept. 1801. 


of them good seamen, pressed by the boats of a single 
ship — the Princess Augusta, Captain Sir Richard 
Bickerton commander, then fitting out at Woolwich.^ 
Such a raid was very properly termed a "hot press." 

The amazing feature of this exploit is, that it 
should have been possible at all, in view of what was 
going on in the Thames estuary below a line drawn 
across the river's mouth from Foulness to Sheerness- 
reach. Seawards of this line lay the two most famous 
anchorages in the world, where ships foregathered 
from every quarter of the navigable globe. Than the 
Nore and the Downs no finer recruiting-ground could 
anywhere be found, and here the shore-gangs afloat, 
and the boat-gangs from ships of war, were for ever 
on the alert. No ship, whether inward or outward 
bound, could pass the Nore without being visited. 
Nothing went by unsearched.^ The wonder is that 
any unprotected sailor ever found his way to 

Between the Nore and the North Foreland the 
conditions were equally rigorous. Through all the 
channels leading to the sea, channels affording 
anchorage to innumerable ships of every conceivable 
rig and tonnage, the gangs roamed at will, exacting 
toll of everything that carried canvas. Even the 
smaller craft left high and dry upon the flats, or 
awaiting the tide in some sand-girt pool, did not 
escape their hawk-like vigilance. 

In the Downs these conditions reached their 
climax, for thither, in never-ending procession, came 
the larger ships which were so fruitful of good hauls. 

^ Ad. I. 1497 — Capt. Bickerton, 29 Oct. 1776. 
* Ad. I. 2733— Capt. Young, 7 March 1756. 

Seizing a Waterman on Tower Hill on thi 
Morning of his Wedding Day. 



With the wind at north, or between north and east, 
few ships came in and little could be done. But when 
the wind veered and came piping out of the west or 
sou'-west, in they came in such numbers that the 
gangs, however numerous they might be, had all their 
work cut out to board them. A special tender, swift 
and exceedingly well-found, was accordingly stationed 
here, whose duty it was to be "very watchful that no 
vessel passed without a visit from the impress boats." ^ 
In such work as this man-o'-war boats were of little 
use. Just as they could not negotiate Deal beach 
without danger of being reduced to matchwood, so 
they could not live in the choppy sea kicked up in the 
Downs by a westerly gale. Folkstone market boats 
and Deal cutters had to be requisitioned for pressing 
in those waters. Their seaworthiness and speed 
made the Downs the crux of inward-bound ships, 
whose only means of escaping their attentions was 
to incur another danger by ** going back of the 

The procedure of boat-gangs pressing in harbour 
or on rivers seldom varied, unless it were by accident. 
As a rule, night was the time selected, for to catch 
the sailor asleep conduced greatly to the success 
and safety of the venture. The hour chosen was 
consequently either close upon midnight, some little 
time after he had turned in, or in the early morning 
before he turned out. The darker the night and the 
dirtier the weather the better. Surprise, swiftly and 
silendy carried out, was half the battle. 

A case in point is the attempt made by Lieut. 

^ Ad. I. 2733 — Orders of Vice- Admiral Buckle to Capt. Yates, 29 
April 1778. 


Rudsdale, of H.M.S. Licorne, "to impress all men 
(without exception) from the ships and vessels lying 
at Cheek Point above Passage of Waterford," in the 
year '79. Putting-off in the pinnace with a picked 
crew at eleven o'clock on a dark and tempestuous 
October night, he had scarcely left the ship astern ere 
he overtook a boatload of men, how many he could 
not well discern in the darkness, pulling in the direc- 
tion he himself was bound. Fearful lest they should 
suspect the nature of his errand and alarm the ships at 
Passage, he ran alongside of them and pressed the 
entire number, sending the boat adrift. Putting back, 
he set his capture on board the Licorne and once 
more turned the nose of the pinnace towards Passage. 
There, dropping noiselessly aboard the Triton brig, 
he caught the hands asleep, pressed as many of them 
as he had room for, and with them returned to the 
ship. Meanwhile, the master of the Triton armed 
what hands he had left and met Rudsdale's second 
attempt to board him with a formidable array of 
handspikes, hatchets and crowbars. A fusillade of 
bottles and billets of wood further evinced his deter- 
mination to protect the brig against all comers, and 
lest there should be any doubt on that point he swore 
roundly that he would be the death of every man in 
the pinnace if they did not immediately sheer off and 
leave him in peace. This the lieutenant wisely did. 
No further surprises were possible that night, for by 
this time the alarm had spread, the pinnace was half- 
full of missiles, and one of his men lay in the bottom 
of her severely wounded.^ As it was, he had a very 
fair night's work to his credit. Between the occupants 

^ Ad, I. 471— Deposition of Lieut. Rudsdale, 24 Oct. 1779. 


of the boat and those of the brig he had obtained close 
upon a score of men. 

The expedients resorted to by commanders of 
ships of war temporarily in port and short of their 
tale of men are vividly depicted in a report made to 
the Admiralty in 171 1. ''Three days ago, very 
privately," writes Capt. Billingsley, whose ship, the 
Vanguard, was then lying at Blackstakes, " I Sent 
two fishing Smacks with a Lieutenant and some Men, 
with orders to proceede along the Essex Coast, and 
downe as far as the Wallet, to the Naze, with direc- 
tions to take all the men out of Oyster Vessels and 
others that were not Exempted. The project suc- 
ceeded, and they are return'd with fourteen men, all fit, 
and but one has ever been in the Service. The coast 
was Alarm'd, and the country people came downe and 
fir'd from the Shore upon the Smacks, and no doubt 
but they doe still take 'em to be privateers." ^ 

Pressing at sea differed materially in many of its 
aspects from pressing on the more sheltered waters of 
rivers and harbours. Carried out as a rule in the 
broad light of day, it was for that very reason accom- 
panied with a more open and determined display of 
force than those quieter ventures which depended so 
largely for their success upon the element of surprise. 
Situated as we are in these latter days, when anyone 
who chooses may drive his craft from Land's End to 
John o' Groats without hindrance, it is difficult to 
conceive that there was ever a time when the whole 
extent of the coastal waters of the kingdom, as ranged 
by the impress tender, was under rigorous martial law. 
Yet such was unquestionably the case. Throughout 

^ Ad. I. 1470— Capt. Billingsley, 5 May 171 1. 


the eighteenth century the flag was everywhere in 
armed evidence in those waters, and no sailing master 
of the time could make even so much as a day's run 
with any certainty that the peremptory summons : 
** Bring to ! I'm coming aboard of you," would not be 
bawled at him from the mouth of a gun. 

The retention of the command of a tender depended 
entirely upon her success in procuring men. As a 
rule, she was out for no other purpose, and this being 
so, it is not to be supposed that the officer in charge 
of her would do otherwise than employ the means 
ordained for that end. Accordingly, as soon as a sail 
was sighted by the tender's lookout man, a gun was 
loaded, shotted with roundshot, and run out ready for 
the moment when the vessel should come within 

The first intimation the intended victim had of the 
fate in store for her was the shriek of the roundshot 
athwart her bows. This was the signal, universally 
known as such, for her to back her topsails and await 
the coming of the gang, already tumbling in ordered 
haste into the armed boat prepared for them under 
the tender's quarter. And yet it was not always easy 
for the sprat to catch the whale. A variety of factors 
entered into the problem and made for failure as often 
as for success. Sometimes the tender's powder was 
bad — so bad that in spite of an extra pound or so 
added to the charge, the shot could not be got to 
carry as far as a common musket ball.^ When this 
was the case her commander suffered a double morti- 
fication. His shot, the symbol of authority and 
coercion, took the water far short of its destined goal, 

* Ad, I. 2485 — Capt. Shirley, 5 Nov. 1780, and numerous instances. 


whilst the vessel it was intended to check and in- 
timidate surged by amid the derisive cat-calls and 
laughter of her crew. 

Even with the powder beyond reproach, ships did 
not always obey the summons, peremptory though it 
was. One pretended not to hear it, or to misunder- 
stand it, or to believe it was meant for some other 
craft, and so held stolidly on her course, vouchsafing 
no sign till a second shot, fired point-blank, but at a 
safe elevation, hurtled across her decks and brought 
her to her senses. Another, perhaps some well-armed 
Levantine trader or tall Indiaman whose crew had 
little mind to strike their colours submissively at the 
behest of a midget press-smack, would pipe to quarters 
and put up a stiff fight for liberty and the dear delights 
of London town — a fight from which the tender, 
supposing her to have accepted the gage of battle, 
rarely came off victor. Or the challenged ship, 
believing herself to be the faster craft of the two, 
clapped on all sail, caught an opportune "slatch of 
wind," and showed her pursuer a clean pair of heels, 
the tender's guns meanwhile barking away at her 
until she passed out of range. These were incidents 
in the chapter of pressing afloat which every tender's 
commander was familiar with. Back of them all lay 
a substantial fact, and on that he relied for his supply 
of men. There was somehow a magic in the boom of 
a naval gun that had its due effect upon most ship- 
masters. They brought-to, however reluctantly, and 
awaited the pleasure of the gang. But the sailor had 
still to be reckoned with. 

In order to invest the business of taking the sailor 
with some semblance of legality, it was necessary that 


the commander of the tender, in whose name the 
press-warrant was made out, or one of his two mid- 
shipmen, each of whom usually held a similar warrant, 
should conduct the proceedings in person ; and the 
first duty of this officer, on setting foot upon the deck 
of the vessel held up in the manner just described, 
was to order her entire company to be mustered 
for his inspection. If the master proved civil, this 
preliminary passed off quickly and with no more con- 
fusion than was incidental to a general and hasty 
rummaging of sea-chests and lockers in search of 
those magic protections on which hung the immediate 
destiny of every man in the ship, excepting only the 
skipper, his mate and that privileged person, the 
boatswain. The muster effected, the officer next 
subjected each protection to the closest possible 
scrutiny, for none who knew the innate trickery of 
seamen would ever "take their words for it."^ Men 
who had no protections, men whose papers bore 
evident traces of "coaxing" or falsification, men 
whose appearance and persons failed to tally exactly 
with the description there written down — these were 
set apart from their more fortunate messmates, to be 
dealt with presently. To their ranks were added 
others whose protections had either expired or were 
on the point of expiry, as well as skulkers who sought 
to evade His Majesty's press by stowing themselves 
away between or below decks, and who had been by 
this time more or less thoroughly routed out by 
members of the gang armed with hangers. The two 
contingents now lined up, and their total was checked 
by reference to the ship's articles, the officer never 

* Ad. I. 1482 — Capt. Boscawen, 20 March 1745-6. 


omitting to make affectionate inquiries after men 
marked down as " run," *' drowned," or *' discharged " ; 
for none knew better than he, if an old hand at the 
game, how often the " run " man ran no further afield 
than some secure hiding-place overlooked by his 
gangers, or how miraculously the ** drowned" bobbed 
up once more to the surface of things when the gang 
had ceased from troubling. If the ship happened to 
be an inward-bound, and to possess a general pro- 
tection exempting her from the press only for the 
voyage then just ending, that fact greatly simplified 
and abbreviated the proceedings, for then her whole 
company was looked upon as the ganger's lawful prey. 
In the case of an outward-bound ship, the gang- 
officer's duty was confined to seeing that she carried 
no more hands than her protection and tonnage per- 
mitted her to carry. All others were pressed. Cowed 
by armed authority, or wounded and bleeding in a lost 
cause as hereafter to be related, the men were hustled 
into the boat with *' no more violence than was 
necessary for securing them."^ Their chests and 
bedding followed, making a full boat ; and so, having 
cleared the ship of all her pressable hands, the gang 
prepared to return to the tender. But first there was 
a last stroke of business to be done. The gunner 
must have his bit. 

Up to this point, beyond producing the ship's 
papers for inspection and gruffly answering such 
questions as were put to him, the master of the vessel 
had taken little part in what was going on. His turn 
now came. By virtue of his position he could not be 
pressed, but there existed a very ancient naval usage 

1 Ad. I. 1437— Capt. Aldred, 12 June 1708. 


according to which he could be, and was, required to 
pay for the powder and shot expended in inducing him 
to receive the gang on board. In law the exaction was 
indefensible. Litigation often followed it, and as the 
century grew old the practice for that reason fell into 
gradual desuetude, a circumstance almost universally 
deplored by naval commanders of the old school,^ 
who were ever sticklers for respect to the flag ; but 
during the first five or six decades of the century 
the shipmaster who had to be fired upon rarely 
escaped paying the shot. The money accruing from 
his compliance with the demand, 6s. 8d., went to the 
gunner, whose perquisite it was, and as several shots 
were frequently necessary to reduce a crew to becom- 
ing submissiveness, the gunners must have done very 
well out of it. Refusal to "pay the shot" could be 
visited upon the skipper only indirectly. Another 
man or two were taken out of him by way of reprisals, 
and the press-boat shoved off — to return a second, or 
even a third time, if the pressed men numbered more 
than she could stow. 

From this summary mode of depriving a ship of a 
part or the whole of her crew two serious complica- 
tions arose, the first of which had to do with the 
wages of the men pressed, the second with what was 
technically called "carrying the ship up," that is to 
say, sailing her to her destination. 

According to the law of the land, the sailor who 
was pressed out of a ship was entitled to his wages in 
full till the day he was pressed, and not only was 
every shipmaster bound to provide such men with 

^ Ad. I. 1511— Capt. Bowen, 13 Oct. 1795, ^^^ Admiralty endorse- 


tickets good for the sums severally due to them, 
tickets drawn upon the owners and payable upon 
demand, but it was the duty of every impress officer 
to see that such tickets were duly made out and 
delivered to the men. Refusal to comply with the 
law in this respect led to legal proceedings, in which, 
except in the case of foreign ships, the Admiralty 
invariably won. Eminently fair to the sailor, the 
provision was desperately hard on masters and 
owners, for they, after having shipped their crews for 
the run or voyage, now found themselves left either 
with insufficient hands to carry the ship up, or with 
no hands at all. As a concession to the necessity 
of the moment a gang was sometimes put on board a 
ship for the avowed purpose of pressing her hands 
when she arrived in port ; but such concessions were 
not always possible,^ and common equity demanded 
that in their absence ample provision should be made 
for the safety of vessels suddenly disabled by the 
gang. This the Admiralty undertook to do, and 
hence there grew up that appendage to the impress 
afloat generally known as "men in lieu" or "ticket 

The vocation of the better type " man in lieu " was 

1 Nor were they always effective, as witness the following : 
"Tuesday the 15th, the Shandois sloop from Holland came by this place 
(the Nore). I put 15 men on b** her to secure her Comp^ till their 
Protection was expired. Soon after came from Sheerness the Master 
Attendant's boat to assist me on that service. I immediately sent her 
away with more Men and Armes for the better Securing of the Sloop's 
Company, but that night, in Longreach, the Vessel being near the Shore, 
and almost Calme, they hoisted the boat out to tow the Sloop about, and 
all the Sloop's men, being 18, got into her and Run ashore, bidding 
defiance to my people's fireing." — Ad. i. 1473 — Capt. Bouler, H.M.S. 
Argyle^ 18 Feb. 1725-6. 


a vicarious sort of employment, entailing any but 
disagreeable consequences upon him who followed it. 
At every point on the coast where a gang was 
stationed, and at many where they were not, great 
numbers of these men were retained for service afloat 
whenever required. The three ports of Dover, Deal 
and Folkestone alone at one time boasted no less than 
four hundred and fifty of them, and when a hot press 
was in full swing in the Downs even this number was 
found insufficient to meet the demand. Mostly fisher- 
men, Sea-Fencibles and others of a quasi-seafaring 
type, they enjoyed complete exemption from the im- 
press as a consideration for '* going in pressed merr's 
rooms," received a shilling, and in some cases eighteen- 
pence a day while so employed, and had a penny a 
mile road-money for their return to the place of their 
abode, where they were free, in the intervals between 
carrying ships up, to follow any longshore occupation 
they found agreeable, save only smuggling. The 
enjoyment of these privileges, and particularly the 
privilege of exemption from the press, made them, as 
a class, notorious for their independence and insolence 
— characteristics which still survive in not a few of 
their descendants. Tenders going a-pressing often 
bore a score or two of these privileged individuals as 
supers, who were drafted into ships, as the crews were 
taken out, to assist the master, mate and few remain- 
ing hands, were any of the latter left, in carrying them 
up. Or, if no supers of this class were borne by the 
tender, she "loaned" the master a sufficient number 
of her own company, duly protected by tickets from 
the commanding officer, and invariably the most un- 
serviceable people on board, to work the ship into the 


nearest port where regular **men in lieu " could be 

Had all **men in lieu" conformed to the standard 
of the better class substitute of that name, the system 
would have been laudable in the extreme and trade 
would have suffered little inconvenience from the 
depredations of the gangs ; but there was in the 
system a flaw that generally reduced the aid lent to 
ships to something little better than a mere travesty 
of assistance. That flaw lay in the fact that 
Admiralty never gave as good as it took. Clearly, 
it could not. True, it supplied substitutes to go in 
*' pressed men's rooms," but to call them ''men in 
lieu" was a gross abuse of language. In reality the 
substitutes supplied were in the great majority of 
cases mere scum in lieu, the unpressable residuum of 
the population, consisting of men too old or lads too 
young to appeal to the cupidity of the gangs, poor 
creatures whom the regulating captains had refused, 
useless on land and worse than useless at sea. 

In the general character of the persons sent in 
pressed men's rooms Admiralty thus had Trade on 
the hip, and Trade suffered much in consequence. 
More than one rich merchantman, rusty from long 
voyaging, strewed the coast with her cargo and 
timbers because all the able seamen had been taken 
out of her, and none better than old men and boys 
could be found to sail her. Few seaport towns were 
as wise as Sunderland, where they had a Society of 
Shipowners for mutual insurance against the risks 
arising from the pressing of their men.^ Elsewhere 
masters, owners and underwriters groaned under the 
1 Ad. I. 1541— Capt. Bligh, 8 Jan. 1807, enclosure. 


galling imposition ; but the wrecker rejoiced exceed- 
ingly, thanking the gangs whose ceaseless activities 
rendered such an outrageous state of things possible. 

Whichever of these two classes the ticket man 
belonged to, he was an incorrigible deserter. 
" Thirteen out of the fifteen men in lieu that I sent 
up in the Beaufort East-Indiaman," writes the dis- 
gusted commander of the Comet bombship, from the 
Downs, "have never returned. As they are not 
worth inquiring for, I have made them run."^ Such 
instances might be multiplied indefinitely. Once the 
ticket man had drawn his money for the trip, there 
was no such thing as holding him. The temptation 
to spend his earnings in town proved too strong, and 
he went on the spree with great consistency and 
enjoyment till his money was gone and his protection 
worthless, when the inevitable overtook him. The 
ubiquitous gang deprived him of his only remaining 
possession, his worthless liberty, and sent him to the 
fleet, a ragged but shameless derelict, as a punish- 
ment for his breach of privilege. 

The protecting ticket carried by the man in lieu 
dated from 1702, when it appears to have been first 
instituted ; ^ but even when the bearer was no 
deserter in fact or intention, it had little power to 
protect him. No ticket man could count upon re- 
maining unmolested by the gangs except the undoubted 
foreigner and the marine, both of whom were much 
used as men in lieu. The former escaped because his 

^ Ad. I. 1478 — Capt. Burvill, 4 Sept. 1742. A man-o'-war's-man was 
"made run" when he failed to return to his ship after a reasonable 
absence and an R was written over against his name on the ship's books. 

2 Ad. I. 1433— Capt. Anderson, 5 April 1702. 



alien tongue provided him with a natural protection ; 
the latter because he was reputedly useless on ship- 
board. In the person of the marine, indeed, the 
man in lieu achieved the climax of ineptitude. 

It was an ironical rule of the service that 
persons refusing to act as men in lieu should suffer 
the very fate they stood in so much danger of in the 
event of their consenting. Broadstairs fishermen 
in 1803 objected to serving in that capacity, though 
tendered the exceptional wage of 27s. for the 
run to London. "If not compelled to go in that 
way," they alleged, ** they could make their own terms 
with shipmasters and have as many guineas as 
they were now offered shillings." Orders to press 
them for their contumacy were immediately sent 

By the year 1 8 1 1 the halcyon days of the man 
in lieu were at an end. As a class he was then 
practically extinct. Inveterate and long-continued 
pressing had drained the merchant service of all 
able-bodied British seamen except those who were 
absolutely essential to its existence. These were 
fully protected, and when their number fell short of 
the requirements of the service the deficiency was 
supplied by foreigners and apprentices simil^y 
exempt. So few pressable men were to be found 
in any one ship that it was no longer considered 
necessary to send ticket men in their stead when they 
were taken out, and as a matter of fact less than 
a dozen such men were that year put on board ships 
passing the Downs.^ Pressing itself was in its decline, 

^ Ad. I. 1450 — Capt. Carter, i6 Aug. 1803. 
2 Ad. I. 1453— Capt. Anderson, 31 Aug. 181 1. 



and as for the vocation of the man in lieu, it had gone 
never to return. 

Ships and tenders out for men met with varied 
fortunes. In the winter season the length of the 
nights, the tempestuous weather and the cold told 
heavily against success, as did at all times that factor 
in the problem which one old sea-dog so picturesquely 
describes as ** the room there is for missing you." 
Capt. Barker, of the Thetis, in 1748 made a haul of 
thirty men off the Old- Head of Kinsale, but lost his 
barge in doing so, *'it blowed so hard." Byng, of 
the Sutherland^ grumbled atrociously because in the 
course of his run up-Channel in '42 he was able to 
press "no more than seventeen." Anson, looking 
quite casually into Falmouth on his way down-Channel, 
found there in '46 the Betsey tender, then just recently 
condemned, and took out of her every man she 
possessed at the cost of a mere hour's work, ignorant 
of the fact that when pressing eight of those men 
the commander of the ^etsey had been " eight hours 
about it." It was all a game of chance, and when 
you played it the only thing you could count upon 
was the certainty of having both the sailor and the 
elements dead against you. 

But if the " room there is for missing you," con- 
spiring with other unfavourable conditions, rendered 
pressing afloat an uncertain and vexatious business, 
the chances of making a haul were on the other hand 
augmented by every ship that entered or left the 
Narrow Seas, not even excepting the foreigner. The 
foreign sailor could not be pressed unless, as we have 
seen, he had naturalised himself by marrying an 
English wife, but the foreign ship was fair game for 

W O 


«c c« c 

• • 

• • « 


* c ** 

• • 


«* *« 


•• •• 


• • 

• ••• • 

• •••• 




every hunter of British seamen. An ancient assump- 
tion of right made it so. 

From the British point of view the '' Right of 
Search" was an eminently reasonable thing. Here 
was an island people to whose keeping Heaven had 
by special dispensation committed the dominion of 
the seas. To defend that dominion they needed 
every seaman they possessed or could produce. They 
could spare none to other nations ; and when their 
sailors, who enjoyed no rights under their own flag, 
had the temerity to seek refuge under another, there 
was nothing for it but to fire on that flag if necessary, 
and to take the refugee by armed force from under 
its protection. This in effect constituted the time- 
honoured *' Right of Search," and none were so 
reluctant to forego the prerogative, or so keen to 
enforce it, as those naval officers who saw in it a 
certain prospect of adding to their ships' companies. 
The right of search was always good for another 
man or two. 

It was often good for a great many more, for the 
foreign skipper was at the best an arrant man-stealing 
rogue. If a Yankee, he hated the British because he 
had beaten them ; if a Frenchman or a Hollander, 
because they had beaten him. His animus was all 
against the British Navy, his sympathies all in favour 
of the British sailor, in whom he recognised as good, 
if not a better seaman than himself. He accordingly 
enticed him with the greatest pertinacity and hid him 
away with the greatest cunning. 

Every impress officer worth his salt was fully alive 
to these facts, and on all the coast no ship was so 
thoroughly ransacked as the ship whose skipper 

•••• .< 

••••• ••••• 

• •• 


every hunter of British seamen. An ancient assump- 
tion of right made it so. 

From the British point of view the *' Right of 
Search" was an eminently reasonable thing. Here 
was an island people to whose keeping Heaven had 
by special dispensation committed the dominion of 
the seas. To defend that dominion they needed 
every seaman they possessed or could produce. They 
could spare none to other nations ; and when their 
sailors, who enjoyed no rights under their own flag, 
had the temerity to seek refuge under another, there 
was nothing for it but to fire on that flag if necessary, 
and to take the refugee by armed force from under 
its protection. This in effect constituted the time- 
honoured " Right of Search," and none were so 
reluctant to forego the prerogative, or so keen to 
enforce it, as those naval officers who saw in it a 
certain prospect of adding to their ships' companies. 
The right of search was always good for another 
man or two. 

It was often good for a great many more, for the 
foreign skipper was at the best an arrant man-stealing 
rogue. If a Yankee, he hated the British because he 
had beaten them ; if a Frenchman or a Hollander, 
because they had beaten him. His animus was all 
against the British Navy, his sympathies all in favour 
of the British sailor, in whom he recognised as good, 
if not a better seaman than himself. He accordingly 
enticed him with the greatest pertinacity and hid him 
away with the greatest cunning. 

Every impress officer worth his salt was fully alive 
to these facts, and on all the coast no ship was so 
thoroughly ransacked as the ship whose skipper 


affected a bland ignorance of the English tongue or 
called Heaven to witness the blamelessness of his 
conduct with many gesticulations and strange oaths. 
Lieut. Oakley, regulating officer at Deal, once boarded 
an outward-bound Dutch East-Indiaman in the Downs. 
The master strenuously denied having any English 
sailors on board, but the lieutenant, being suspicious, 
sent his men below with instructions to leave no part 
of the ship unsearched. They speedily routed out 
three, " who discovered that there were in all thirteen 
on board, most of them good and able seamen."^ 
The case is a typical one. 

Another source of joy and profit to the gangs 
afloat were the great annual convoys from overseas. 
For safety's sake merchantmen in times of hostilities 
sailed in fleets, protected by ships of war, and when 
a fleet of this description was due back from Jamaica, 
Newfoundland or the Baltic, that part of the coast 
where it might be expected to make its land-fall 
literally swarmed with tenders, all on the qui vive 
for human plunder. They were seldom disappointed. 
The Admiralty protections under which the ships had 
put to sea in the first instance expired with the home 
voyage, leaving the crews at the mercy of the gangs. 
If, that is to say, the commanders of the convoying 
men-o'-war had not forestalled them, or the ships' 
companies were not composed, as in one case we read 
of, of men who were all "either sick or Dutchmen." 

The privateer had to be approached more warily 

than the merchantman, since the number of men and 

the weight of metal she carried made her an ugly 

customer to deal with. She was in consequence 

^ Ad. I. 3363 — Lieut. Oakley, 8 Dec. 1743. 


notorious for being the sauciest craft afloat, and 
though *' sauce" was to the naval officer what a red 
rag is to a bull, there were few in the service who did 
not think twice before attempting to violate the armed 
sanctity of the privateer. At the same time the hands 
who crowded her deck were the flower of British 
seamen, and in this fact lay a tremendous incentive 
to dare all risks and press her men. Her commission 
or letter of marque of course protected her, but when 
she was inward-bound that circumstance carried no 

Against such an adversary the tender stood little 
chance. When she hailed the privateer, the latter 
laughed at her, threatening to sink her out of hand, 
or, if ordered to bring to, answered with all the 
insolent contempt of the Spanish grandee : " Manana ! " 
Accident sometimes stood the tender in better stead, 
where the pressing of privateer's-men was concerned, 
than all the guns she carried. Capt. Adams, cruising 
for men in the Bristol Channel, one day fell in with 
the Princess Augusta^ a letter of marque whose crew 
had risen upon their officers and tried to take the 
ship. After hard fighting the mutiny was quelled 
and the mutineers confined to quarters, in which 
condition Adams found them. The whole batch, 
twenty-nine in number, was handed over to him, 
** though 'twas only with great threats " that he could 
induce them to submit, "they all swearing to die to 
a man rather than surrender." ^ 

A year or two prior to this event this same ship, 
the Princess Augusta, had a remarkable adventure 
whilst sailing under the merchant flag of England. 

^ Ad. I. 1440— Capt. Adams, 28 June 1745. 


On the homeward run from Barbadoes, some fifty 
leagues to the westward of the Scillies, she fell in 
with a Spanish privateer, who at once engaged and 
would undoubtedly have taken her but for an extra- 
ordinary occurrence. Just as the trader's assailants 
were on the point of boarding her the Spaniard 
blew up, strewing the sea with his wreckage, but 
leaving the merchantman providentially unharmed. 
Capt. Dansays, of H.M.S. the Fubbs yacht, who 
happened to be out for men at the time in the chops 
of the Channel, brought the news to England. 
Meeting with the trader a few days after her 
miraculous escape, he had boarded her and pressed 
nine of her crew.^ 

From the smuggling vessels infesting the coasts 
the sea-going gangs drew sure returns and rich booty. 
In the south and east of England people who were 
"in the know" could always buy tobacco, wines and 
silks for a mere song ; and in Cumberland, in the 
coast towns there, and inland too, the very beggars 
are said to have regaled themselves on tea at sixpence 
or a shilling the pound. These commodities, as well 
as others dealt in by runners of contrabrand, were 
worth far more on the water than on land, and none 
was So keenly alive to the fact as the gangsman who 
prowled the coast. Animated by the prospect of 
double booty, he was by all odds the best "preventive 
man " the country ever had. 

There was a certainty, too, about the pressing of 
a smuggler that was wanting in other cases. The 
sailor taken out of a merchant ship, or the fisherman 
out of a smack, might at the eleventh hour spring 

1 Ad. I. 1439— Capt. Ambrose, 7 Feb. 1741-2. 


upon you a protection good for his discharge. Not 
so the smuggler. There was in his case no room for 
the unexpected. No form of protection could save 
him from the consequences of his trade. Once caught, 
his fate was a foregone conclusion, for he carried with 
him evidence enough to make him a pressed man 
twenty times over. Hence the gangsman and the 
naval officer loved the smuggler and lost no opportunity 
of showing their affection. 

** Strong Breezes and Cloudy," records the officer 
in command of H.M.S. Stag, a twenty-eight gun 
frigate, in his log. " Having made the Signal for 
Two Strange Sail in the West, proceeded on under 
Courses & Double Reeft Topsails. At i sett the 
Jibb and Driver, at 3 boarded a Smugling Cutter, 
but having papers proving she was from Guernsey, 
and being out limits, pressed one Man and let her go." ^ 

** Friday last," says the captain of the Spy sloop of 
war, '' I sail'd out of Yarmouth Roads with a Fleet 
of Colliers in order to press Men, & in my way fell 
in with Two Dutch Built Scoots sail'd by Englishmen, 
bound for Holland, one belonging to Hull, call'd the 
Mary, the other to Lyn, call'd the Willing Traveller. 
I search'd 'em and took out of the former ^64 14, and 
out of the latter ^30 o 6, all English Money, which 
I've deliver'd to the Collector of Custome at Yarmouth. 
I likewise Imprest out of the Two Vessells seven men." ^ 

** In the execution of my orders for pressing," 
reports Capt. Young, from on board the Bonetta sloop 

^ Ad. I. 2734— Log of H.M.S. Stag, Capt. Yorke commander, 
5 Oct. 1794. 

^ Ad. I. 1438 — Capt. Arnold, 29 May 1727. The exporting of coin 
was illegal. 


under his command, *' I lately met with two Smuglers, 
& landing my boats into a Rocky Bay where they 
were running of Goods, the Weather came on so 
Violent I had my pinnace Stove so much as to be 
rendered unservisable. They threw overboard all 
their Brandy, Tea and Tobacco, of which last wee 
recover'd about 14 Baggs and put it to the Custom 
house. In Endeavouring to bring one of them to Sail, 
my Boatswain, who is a very Brisk and Deserving Man, 
had his arm broke, so that tho' wee got no more of 
their Cargo, it has broke their Voyage and Trade this 
bout." ' 

On the 13th of December 1703, George Messenger, 
boatswain of the pyo// armed sloop, whilst pressing 
on the H umber descried a *' keel " lying high and dry 
apart from the other shipping in the river, where it 
was then low water. Boarding her with the intention 
of pressing her men, he found her deserted save for the 
master, and thinking that some of the hands might be 
in hiding below — where the master assured him he 
would find nothing but ballast — he *' did order one of 
his Boat's crew to goe down in the Hold and see 
what was therein " ; who presently returned and 
reported **a quantity of wool conceal'd under some 
Coales a foot thik." The exportation of wool being 
at that time forbidden under heavy penalties, the 
vessel was seized and the master pressed — a course 
frequently adopted in such circumstances, and uni- 
formly approved.^ 

1 Ad. I. 2732— Capt Young, 6 April 1739. 

* Ad. I. 1465 — Deposition of George Messenger, 20 Dec. 1703. 
Owling, ooling or wooling, as the exportation of wool contrary to law 
was variously termed, was a felony punishable, according to an enact- 
ment of Edward iii., with " forfeiture of life and member." So serious 


While the gangs afloat in this way lent their aid 
in the suppression of smuggling, they themselves were 
sometimes subjected to disagreeable espionage on the 
part of those whose duty it was to keep a special 
lookout for runners of contraband goods. An amus- 
ing instance of this once occurred in the Downs. The 
commanding officer of H.M.S. Orford, discovering 
his complement to be short, sent one of his lieutenants, 
Richardson by name, in quest of men to make up the 
deficiency. In the course of his visits from ship to 
ship there somehow found their way into the lieu- 
tenant's boat a fifteen-gallon keg of rum and ten 
bottles of white wine. Between seven and eight 
o'clock in the evening he boarded an Indiaman and 
went below with the master. Scarcely had he done 
so, however, when an uproar alongside brought him 
hurriedly on deck — to find his boat full of strange 
faces. A Customs cutter, in some unaccountable way 
getting wind of what was in the boat, had unexpectedly 
**clapt them aboard," collared the man-o'-war's-men 
for a set of rascally smugglers, and confiscated the 
unexplainable rum and wine, becoming so fuddled on 
the latter, which they lost no time in consigning to 
bond, that one of their number fell into the sea and 
was with difficulty fished out by Richardson's disgusted 

was the offence considered that in 1 565 a further enactment was form- 
ulated against it. Thereafter any person convicted of exporting a live 
ram, lamb or sheep, was not only liable to forfeit all his goods, but to 
suffer imprisonment for a year, and at the end of the year " in some open 
market town, in the fulness of the market on the market day, to have his 
right hand cut off and nailed up in the openest place of such market." 
The first of these Acts remained in nominal force till 1863. 
^ Ad. I. 1473 — Capt. Brown, 30 July 1727, and enclosures. 


The only inward-bound ship the gangsmen were 
forbidden to press from was the " sick ship " or vessel 
undergoing quarantine because of the presence, or the 
suspected presence, on board of her of some ** catch- 
ing" disease, and more particularly of that terrible 
scourge the plague. Dread of the plague in those 
days rode the country like a nightmare, and just as 
the earliest quarantine precautions had their origin 
in that fact, so those precautions were never more 
rigorously enforced than in the case of ships trading 
to countries known to be subject to plague or reported 
to be in the grip of it. The Levantine trader suffered 
most severely in this respect. In 1721 two vessels 
from Cyprus, where plague was then prevalent, were 
burned to the water's edge by order of the authorities, 
and as late as 1800 two others from Morocco, sus- 
pected of carrying the dread disease in the hides 
composing their cargo, were scuttled and sent to the 
bottom at the Nore. This was quarantine in excelsis. 
Ordinary preventive measures went no further than 
the withdrawal of "pratique," as communication with 
the shore was called, for a period varying usually from 
ten to sixty-five days, and during this period no gang 
was allowed to board the ship. 

The seamen belonging to such ships always got 
ashore if they could ; for though the penalty for 
deserting a ship in quarantine was death,^ it might 
be death to remain, and the sailor was ever an 
opportunist careless of consequences. So, for that 
matter, was the gangsman. Knowing well that Jack 
would make a break for it the first chance he got, he 
hovered about the ship both day and night, alert for 

^ 26 George ii. cap. 6. 


every movement on board, watchful of every ripple on 
the water, taunting the woebegone sailors with the 
irksomeness of their captivity or the certainty of their 
capture, and awaiting with what patience he could the 
hour that should see pratique restored and the crew at 
his mercy. Whether the ship had ''catching" disease 
on board or not might be an open question. There 
was no mistaking its symptoms in the gangsman. 

Stangate Creek, on the river Medway, was the 
great quarantine station for the port of London, and 
here, in the year 1744, was enacted one of the most 
remarkable scenes ever witnessed in connection with 
pressing afloat. The previous year had seen a re- 
crudescence of plague in the Levant and consequent 
panic in England, where extraordinary precautions 
were adopted against possible infection. In December 
of that year there lay in Stangate Creek a fleet of not 
less than a dozen Levantine ships, in which were 
cooped up, under the most exacting conditions imagin- 
able, more than two hundred sailors. At Sheerness, 
only a few miles distant, a number of ships of war, 
amongst them Rodney's, were at the same time fitting 
out and wanting men. The situation was thus charged 
with possibilities. 

It was estimated that in order to press the two 
hundred sailors from the quarantine ships, when the 
period of detention should come to an end, a force of 
not less than one hundred and fifty men would be 
required. These were accordingly got together from 
the various ships of war and sent into the Creek on 
board a tender belonging to the Royal Sovereign. 
This was on the 15th of December, and quarantine 
expired on the 22nd. 


The arrival of the tender threw the Creek into a 
state of consternation bordering on panic, and that 
very day a number of sailors broke bounds and fell a 
prey to the gangs in attempting to steal ashore. 
Seymour, the lieutenant in command of the tender, 
did not improve matters by his idiotic and unofficer- 
like behaviour. Every day be rowed up and down 
the Creek, in and out amongst the ships, taunting the 
men with what he would do unless they volunteered, 
when the 22 nd arrived, and he was free to work his 
will upon them. He would have them all, he assured 
them, if he had to "shoot them like small birds." 

By the 22 nd the sailors were in a state of " mutin- 
ous insolence." When the tender's boats approached 
the ships they were welcomed ''with presented arms," 
and obliged to sheer off in order to obtain " more 
force," so menacing did the situation appear. Seeing 
this, and either mistaking or guessing the import 
of the move, the desperate seamen rushed the cabins, 
secured all the arms and ammunition they could lay 
hands on, hoisted out the ship's boats, and in these 
reached the shore in safety ere the tender's men, by 
this time out in strength, could prevent or come up 
with them. The fugitives, to the number of a hundred 
or more, made off into the country to the accompani- 
ment, we are told, of ''smart firing on both sides." 
With this exchange of shots the curtain falls on the 
" Fray at Stangate Creek." ^ In the engagement two 
of the seamen were wounded, but all escaped the 
snare of the fowler, and in that happy denouement 
our sympathies are with them. 

Returning transports paid immediate and heavy 

1 Ad. I. 1480— Capt. Berkeley, 30 Dec. 1744, and enclosure. 


tribute to the gangs afloat. Out of a fleet of such 
vessels arriving at the Nore in 1756 two hundred and 
thirty men, "a parcel of as fine fellows as were ever 
pressed," fell to the gangs. Not a man escaped from 
any of the ships, and the boats were kept busy all next 
day shifting chests and bedding and putting in ticket 
men to navigate the depleted vessels to London.^ A 
similar press at the Cove of Cork, on the return of the 
transports from America in '79, proved equally pro- 
ductive. Hundreds of sailors were secured, to the 
unspeakable grief of the local crimps, who were then 
offering long prices in order to recruit Paul Jones, at 
that time cruising off the Irish coast. ^ 

The cartel ship was an object of peculiar solicitude 
to the sea-going gangsman. In her, after weary 
months passed in French, Spanish or Dutch prisons, 
hundreds of able-bodied British seamen returned to 
their native land in more or less prime condition for 
His Majesty's Navy. The warmest welcome they 
received was from the waiting gangsman. Often 
they got no other. Few cartels had the extraordinary 
luck of the ship of that description that crept into Rye 
harbour one night in March 1800, and in bright moon- 
light landed three hundred lusty sailor-men fresh 
from French prisons, under the very nose of the 
battery, the guard at the port head and the Clinker 

Of all the seafaring men the gangsman took, there 
was perhaps none whom he pressed with greater relish 
than the pilot. The every-day pilot of the old school 

1 Ad. I. 1487— Capt. Boys, 6, 7 and 8 July 1756. 

2 Ad. I. 1499— Letters of Capt. Bennett, 1779. 
^ Ad. I. 1449-— Capt. Aylmer, 9 March 1800. 


was a curious compound. When he knew his business, 
which was only too seldom, he was frequently too 
many sheets in the wind to embody his knowledge in 
intelligent orders ; and when he happened to be sober 
enough to issue intelligent orders, he not infrequently 
showed his ignorance of what he was supposed to 
know by issuing wrong ones. The upshot of these 
contradictions was, that instead of piloting His 
Majesty's ships in a becoming seamanly manner, he 
was for ever running them aground. Fortunately for 
the service, an error of this description incapacitated 
him and made him fair game for the gangs, who lost 
no time in transferring him to those foremast regions 
where ship's grog was strictly limited and the captain's 
quite unknown. William Cook, impressed upon an 
occasion at Lynn, with unconscious humour styled 
himself a landsman. He was really a pilot who had 
qualified for that distinction by running vessels 

In the aggregate this unremitting and practically 
unbroken surveillance of the coast was tremendously 
effective. Like Van Tromp, the vessels and gangs 
engaged in it rode the seas with a broom at their 
masthead, sweeping into the service, not every man, 
it is true, but enormous numbers of them. As for 
their quality, " One man out of a merchant ship is 
better than three the lieutenants get in town."^ This 
was the general opinion early in the century ; but as 
the century wore on the quality of the man pressed in 
town steadily deteriorated, till at length the sailor 
taken fresh from the sea was reckoned to be worth six 
of him. 

^ Ad. I. 2379— Capt. Roberts, 27 June 1732. 



As we have just seen, it was when returning from 
overseas that the British sailor ran the gravest risk 
of summary conversion into Falstaffs famous com- 
modity, "food for powder." 

Outward bound, the ship's protection — that 
"sweet little cherub" which, contrary to all Dibdinic 
precedent, lay down below — had spread its kindly 
aegis over him, and, generally speaking, saved him 
harmless from the warrant and the hanger. But 
now the run for which he has signed on is almost 
finished, and as the Channel opens before him the 
magic Admiralty paper ceases to be of "force" for 
his protection. No sooner, therefore, does he make 
his land-fall off the fair green hills or shimmering 
cliffs than his troubles begin. He is now within the 
outer zone of danger, and all about him hover those 
dreaded sharks of the Narrow Seas, the rapacious 
press-smacks, seeking whom they may devour. Con- 
ning the compass-card of his chances as they bear 
down upon him and send their shot whizzing across 
his bows, the sailor, in his fixed resolve to evade the 
gang at any cost, resorted first of all to the most 
simple and sailorly expedient imaginable. He "let 
go all " and made a run for it. That way lay the line 



of least resistance, and, with luck on his side, of 
surest escape. 

Three modes of flight were his to choose between 
— three modes involving as many nice distinctions, 
plus a possible difference with the master. He could 
run away in his ship, run away with her, or as a last 
resort he could sacrifice his slops, his bedding, his 
pet monkey and the gaudy parrot that was just begin- 
ning to swear, and run from her. Which should it 
be? It was all a toss-up. The chance of the 
moment, instantly detected and as instantly acted 
upon, determined his choice. 

The sailor's flight in his ship depended mainly 
upon her sailing qualities and the master's willingness 
to risk being dismasted or hulled by the pursuer's 
shot. Granted a capful of wind on his beam, a fleet 
keel under foot, and a complacent skipper aft, the 
flight direct was perhaps the means of escape the 
sailor loved above all others. The spice of danger 
it involved, the dash and frolic of the chase, the joy 
of seeing his leaping " barky" draw slowly away from 
her pursuer in the contest of speed, and of watching 
the stretch of water lying between him and capture 
surely widen out, were sensations dear to his heart. 

Running away with his ship was a more serious 
business, since the adoption of such a course meant 
depriving the master of his command, and this again 
meant mutiny. Happily, masters took a lenient view 
of mutinies begotten of such conditions. Not in- 
frequently, indeed, they were consenting parties, 
winking at what they could not prevent, and assum- 
ing the command again when the safety of ship and 
crew was assured by successful flight, with never a 


hint of the irons, indictment or death decreed by law 
as the mutineer's portion. 

These modes of flight did not in every instance 
follow the hard-and-fast lines here laid down. Under 
stress of circumstance each was liable to become 
merged in the other ; or both, perhaps, had to be 
abandoned in favour of fresh tactics rendered 
necessary by the accident or the exigency of the 
moment. The Triton and Norfolk Indiamen, after 
successfully running the gauntlet of the Channel 
tenders, in the Downs fell in with the Falmouth man- 
o'-war. The meeting was entirely accidental. Both 
merchantmen were congratulating themselves on 
having negotiated the Channel without the loss of a 
man. The Triton had all furled except her fore 
and mizen topsails, preparatory to coming to an 
anchor ; but as the wind was strong southerly, with 
a lee tide running, the Falmouth! s boats could not 
forge ahead to board her before the set of the tide 
carried her astern of the warship's guns, where- 
upon her crew mutinied, threw shot into the man-o'- 
war's boats, which had by this time drawn alongside, 
and so, making sail with all possible speed, got clear 
away. Meantime a shot had brought the Norfolk 
to on the Falmouth's starboard bow, where she was 
immediately boarded. On her decks an ominous 
state of things prevailed. Her crew would not assist 
to clew up the sails, the anchor had been seized to 
the chain-plates and could not be let go, and when 
the gang from the Falmouth attempted to cut the 
buoy ropes with which it was secured, the *' crew 
attacked them with hatchets and treenails, made sail 
and obliged them to quit the ship." Being by that, 


time astern of the Falmouth's guns, they too made 
their escape.^ 

Never, perhaps, did the sailor adopt the expedient 
of running away, ship and all, with so malicious a 
goodwill or so bright a prospect of success, as 
when sailing under convoy. In those days he seldom 
ventured to *'risk the run," even to Dutch ports and 
back, without the protection of one or more ships of 
war, and in this precaution there was danger as well 
as safety ; for although the king's ships safeguarded 
him against the enemy if hostilities were in progress, 
as well as against the ** little rogues" of privateers 
infesting the coasts and the adjacent seas, no sooner 
did the voyage near its end than the captains of the 
convoying ships took out of him, by force if necessary, 
as many men as they happened to require. This was 
a quid pro quo of which the sailor could see neither 
the force nor the fairness, and he therefore let slip 
no opportunity of evading it. 

" Their Lordships," writes a commander who had 
been thus cheated, *'need not be surprised that I 
pressed so few men out of so large a Convoy, for the 
Wind taking me Short before I got the length of 
Leostaff (Lowestoft), the Pilot w'^ not take Charge 
of the Shipp to turn her out over the Stamford in y* 
Night, w^^ Oblig'd me to come to an Anchor in 
Corton Road. This I did by Signal, but y* Convoy 
took no Notice of it, and all of them Run away and 
Left me, my Bottom being like a Rock for Rough- 
ness, so that I could not Follow them."^ 

Supposing, however, that all these manoeuvres 

1 Ad. I. 1485— Capt. Brett, 25 June 1755. 

2 Ad. I. 2732— Letters of Capt. Young, 1742. 


failed him and the gang after a hot chase appeared 
in force on deck, the game was not yet up so far as 
the sailor was concerned. A ship, it is true, had 
neither the length of the Great North Road nor yet 
the depth of the Forest of Dean, but all the same 
there was within the narrow compass of her timbers 
many a lurking place wherein the artful sailor, by a 
judicious exercise of forethought and tools, might 
contrive to lie undetected until the gang had gone 
over the side. 

About five o'clock in the afternoon of the 25th 
of June 1756, Capt. William Boys, from the quarter- 
deck of his ship the Royal Sovereign, then riding at 
anchor at the Nore, observed a snow on fire in the 
five-fathom channel, a little below the Spoil Buoy. 
He immediately sent his cutter to her assistance, but 
in spite of all efforts to save her she ran aground 
and burnt to the water's edge. Her cargo consisted 
of wine, and the loss of the vessel was occasioned by 
one of her crew, who was fearful of being pressed, 
hiding himself in the hold with a lighted candle. He 
was burnt with the ship.^ 

Barring the lighted candle and the lamentable 

^ Ad. I. 1487 — Capt. Boys, 26 June 1756. Oddly enough, a some- 
what similar accident was indirectly the cause of Capt. Boys' entering 
the Navy. In 1727, whilst the merchantman of which he was then mate 
was on the voyage home from Jamaica, two mischievous imps of black 
boys, inquisitive to know whether some liquor spilt on deck was rum 
or water, applied a lighted candle to it. It proved to be rum, and when 
the officers and crew, who were obliged to take to the boats in 
consequence, were eventually picked up by a Newfoundland fishing 
vessel, unspeakable sufferings had reduced their number from twenty- 
three to seven, and these had only survived by feeding on the bodies 
of their dead shipmates. In memory of that harrowing time Boys 
adopted as his seal the device of a burning ship and the motto : 
" From Fire, Water and Famine by Providence Preserved." 


accident which followed its use, the means of evading 
the gang resorted to in this instance was of a piece 
with many adopted by the sailor. He contrived 
cunning hiding-places in the cargo, where the gangs- 
men systematically ''pricked" for him with their 
cutlasses when the nature of the vessel's lading 
admitted of it, or he stowed himself away in seachests, 
lockers and empty "harness" casks with an ingenuity 
and thoroughness that often baffled the astutest 
gangsman and the most protracted search. The 
spare sails forward, the readily accessible hiding-hole 
of the green-hand, afforded less secure concealment. 
Pierre Flountinherre, routed out of hiding there, 
endeavoured to save his face by declaring that he 
had ''left France on purpose to get on board an 
English man-of-war." Frenchman though he was, 
the gang obliged him.^ 

In his endeavours to best the impress officers and 
gangsmen the sailor found a willing backer in his 
skipper, who systematically falsified the ship's articles 
by' writing "run," "drowned," "discharged" or 
"dead" against the names of such men as he par- 
ticularly desired to save harmless from the press.^ 
This done, the men were industriously coached in the 
various parts they were to play at the critical moment. 
In the skipper's stead, supposing him to be for some 
reason unfit for naval service, some specially valuable 
hand was dubbed master. Failing this substitution, 
which was of course intended to save the man and 
not the skipper, the ablest seaman in the ship figured 
as mate, whilst others became putative boatswain or 

1 Ad. I. 1 510 — Capt. Baskerville, 5 Aug. 1795. 
* Ad. I. 1525— Capt. Berry, 31 March 1801. 


carpenter and apprentices — privileged persons whom 
no gang could lawfully take, but who, to render their 
position doubly secure, were furnished with spurious 
papers, of which every provident skipper kept a 
supply at hand for use in emergencies. When all 
hands were finally mustered to quarters, so to speak, 
there remained on deck only a "master" who could 
not navigate the ship, a "mate" unable to figure out 
the day's run, a "carpenter" who did not know how 
to handle an adze, and some make-believe apprentices 
''bound" only to outwit the gang. And if in spite 
of all these precautions an able seaman were pressed, 
the real master immediately came forward and swore 
he was the mate. 

Such thoroughly organised preparedness as this, 
however, was the exception rather than the rule, for 
though often attempted, it rarely reached perfection 
or stood the actual test. The sailor was too childlike 
by nature to play the fraud successfully, and as for 
the impress officer and the gangsman, neither was 
easily gulled. Supposing the sailor, then, to have 
nothing to hope for from deception or concealment, 
and supposing, too, that it was he who had the rough 
bottom beneath him and the fleet keel in pursuit, 
how was he to outwit the gang and evade the pinch ? 
Nothing remained for him but to heave duty by the 
board and abandon his ship to the doubtful mercies 
of wind and wave. He accordingly went over the 
side with all the haste he could, appropriating the 
boats in defiance of authority, and leaving only the 
master and his mate, the protected carpenter and the 
apprentices to work the ship. Many a trader from 
overseas, summarily abandoned in this way, crawled 


into some outlying port, far from her destination, in 
quest — since a rigorous press often left no others 
available — of "old men and boys to carry her up." 
There is even on record the case of a ship that passed 
the Nore " without a man belonging to her but the 
master, the passengers helping him to sail her." Her 
people had "all got ashore by Harwich." ^ 

Few shipowners were so foolhardy as to incur the 
risk of being thus hit in the pocket by the sailor's 
well-known predilection for French leave when in 
danger of the press. Nor were the masters, for they, 
even when not part owners, had still an appreciable 
stake in the safety of the ships they sailed. As 
between masters, owners and men there consequently 
sprang up a sort of triangular sympathy, having for 
its base a common dread of the gangs, and for its 
apex their circumvention. This apex necessarily 
touched the coast at a point contiguous to the ocean 
tracks of the respective trades in which the ships 
sailed ; and here, in some spot far removed from the 
regular haunts of the gangsman, an emergency crew 
was mustered by those indefatigable purveyors, the 
crimps, and held in readiness against the expected 

Composed of seafaring men too old, too feeble, 
or too diseased to excite the cupidity of the most 
zealous lieutenant who eked out his pay on impress 
perquisites ; of lads but recently embarked on the 
adventurous voyage of their teens ; of pilots willing, 
for a consideration, to forego the pleasure of run- 
ning ships aground ; of fishermen who evaded His 
Majesty's press under colour of Sea-Fencible, Militia, 

1 Ad. I. 1473— Capt. Bouler, 18 Feb. 1725-6. 


or Admiralty protections ; and of unpressable 
foreigners whose wives bewailed them more or less 
beyond the seas, this scratch crew — the Preventive 
Men of the merchant service — here awaited the pre- 
concerted signal which should apprise them that their 
employer s ship was ready for a change of hands. 

For safety's sake the transfer was generally 
effected by night, when that course was possible ; but 
the untimely appearance of a press-smack on the 
scene not infrequently necessitated the shifting of the 
crews in the broad light of day and the hottest of 
haste. On shore all had been in readiness perhaps 
for days. At the signal off dashed the deeply laden 
boats to the frantic ship, the scratch crew scrambled 
aboard, and the regular hands, thus released from 
duty, tumbled pell-mell into the empty boats and 
pulled for shore with a will mightily heartened by a 
running fire of round-shot from the smack and of 
musketry from her cutter, already out to intercept the 
fugitives. Then it was : — 

" Cheerily, lads, cheerily ! there's a ganger hard to wind'ard ; 
Cheerily, lads, cheerily ! there's a ganger hard a-lee ; 
Cheerily, lads, cheerily ! else 'tis farewell home and kindred, 

And the bosun's mate a-raisin' hell in the King's Navee. 
Cheerily, lads, cheerily ho ! the warrant's out, the hanger's drawn ! 
Cheerily, lads, so cheerilee ! we'll leave 'em an i? in pawn ! " ^ 

The place of muster of the emergency men thus 
became in turn the landing-place of the fugitive crew. 
Its whereabouts depended as a matter of course upon 

^ When Jack deserted his ship under other conditions than those 
here described, an R was written against his name to denote that he had 
" run." So, when he shirked an obligation, monetary or moral, by run- 
ning away from it, he was said to " leave an R in pawn." 


the trade in which the ship sailed. The spot chosen 
for the relief of the Holland, Baltic and Greenland 
traders of the East Coast was generally some wild, 
inaccessible part abutting directly on the German 
Ocean or the North Sea. London skippers in those 
trades favoured the neighbourhood of Great Yar- 
mouth, where the maze of inland waterways constitu- 
ting the Broads enabled the shifty sailor to lead the 
gangs a merry game at hide and seek. King's 
Lynners affected Skegness and the Norfolk lip of 
the Wash. Of the men who sailed out of Hull not 
one in ten could be picked up, on their return, by the 
gangs haunting the H umber. They went ashore at 
Dimlington on the coast of Holderness, or at the 
Spurn. The homing sailors of Leith, as of the ports 
on the upper reaches of the Firth of Forth, enjoyed 
an immunity from the press scarcely less absolute 
than that of the Orkney Islanders, who for upwards 
of forty years contributed not a single man to the 
Navy. Having on either hand an easily accessible 
coast, inhabited by a people upon whose hospitality 
the gangs were chary of intruding, and abounding 
in lurking-places as secure as they were snug, the 
Mother Firth held on to her sailor sons with a per- 
tinacity and success that excited the envy of the 
merchant seaman at large and drove impress officers 
to despair. The towns and villages to the north of 
the Firth were ''full of men." On no part of the 
north coast, indeed, from St. Abb's Head clear round 
to Annan Water, was it an easy matter to circumvent 
the canny Scot who went a-sailoring. He had a 
trick of stopping short of his destination, when home- 
ward bound, that proved as baffling to the gangs as 


it was in seeming contradiction to all the traditions of 
a race who pride themselves on ''getting there." ^ 

In the case of outward-bound ships, the disposition 
of the two crews was of course reversed. The scratch 
crew carried the ship down to the stipulated point of 
exchange, where they vacated her in favour of the 
actual crew, who had been secretly conveyed to that 
point by land.^ Whichever way the trick was worked, 
it proved highly effective, for, except from the sea, no 
gang durst venture near such points of debarkation 
and departure without strong military support. 

There still remained the emergency crew itself. 
The most decrepit, crippled or youthful were of 
course out of the question. But the foreigner and 
our shifty friend the man in lieu were fair game. 
Entering largely as they did into the make-up of 
almost every scratch crew, they were pressed without 
compunction whenever and wherever caught abusing 
their privileges by playing the emergency man. To 
keep such persons always and in all circumstances 
was a point of honour with the Navy Board. It had 
no other means of squaring accounts with the scratch 

The emergency man who plied " on his own " 
was more difficult to deal with. Keepers of the 
Eddystone made a *' great deal of money" by putting 
inward-bound ships' crews ashore ; but when one of 
their number, Matthew Dolon by name, was pressed 
as a punishment for that offence, the Admiralty, 

^ Ad. I. 579 — Admiral Pringle, Report on Rendezvous, 2 April 
1795, and Captains' htXXtrs, passim. 

2 Ad. I. 580 — Admiral Lord Nelson, Memorandum on the State of 
the Fleet, 1803. 


having the fear of outraged Trade before its eyes, 
ordered his immediate discharge.^ 

The pilot, the fisherman and the longshoreman 
were notorious offenders in this respect. Whenever 
they saw a vessel bound in, they were in the habit 
of putting off to her and of first inciting the crew to 
escape and then hiring themselves at exorbitant rates 
to work the vessel into port. On such mischievous 
interlopers the gangsman had no mercy. He took 
them whenever he could, confident that when their 
respective cases were stated to the Board, that body 
would " tumble " to the occasion. 

Any attempt at estimating the number of seafar- 
ing men who evaded the gangs and the call of the 
State by means of the devices and subterfuges here 
roughly sketched into the broad canvas of our picture 
would prove a task as profitless as it is impossible of 
accomplishment. One thing only is certain. The 
number fluctuated greatly from time to time with the 
activity or inactivity of the gangs. When the press 
was lax, there arose no question as there existed no 
need of escape ; when it was hot, it was evaded 
systematically and with a degree of success extremely 
gratifying to the sailor. Taking the sea-borne coal 
trade of the port of London alone, it is estimated that 
in the single month of September 1770, at a time 
when an exceptionally severe press from protections 
was in full swing, not less than three thousand collier 
seamen got ashore between Yarmouth Roads and 
Foulness Point. As the coal trade was only one of 
many, and as the stretch of coast concerned comprised 
but a few miles out of hundreds equally well if not 

1 Ad. I. 2732— Capt. Yeo, 25 July 1727. 


better adapted to the sailor's furtive habits, the total 
of escapes must have been little short of enormous. 
It could not have been otherwise. In this grand 
battue of the sea it was clearly impossible to round- 
up and capture every skittish son of Neptune. 

On shore, as at sea, the sailor's course, when the 
gang was on his track, followed the lines of least 
resistance, only here he became a skulk as well as a 
fugitive. It was not that he was a less stout-hearted 
fellow than when at sea. He was merely the victim 
of a type of land neurosis. Drink and his recent 
escape from the gang got on his nerves and rendered 
him singularly liable to panic. The faintest hint of 
a press was enough to make his hair rise. At the 
first alarm he scuttled into hiding in the towns, or 
broke cover like a frightened hare. 

The great press of 1755 affords many instances 
of such panic flights. Abounding in ''lurking holes" 
where a man might lie perdue in comparative safety, 
King's Lynn nevertheless emptied itself of seamen 
in a few hours' time, and when the gang hurried to 
Wells by water, intending to intercept the fugitives 
there, the "idle fishermen on shore" sounded a fresh 
alarm and again they stampeded, going off to the 
eastward in great numbers and burying themselves in 
the thickly wooded dells and hills of that bit of Devon 
in Norfolk which lies between Clay-next-the-Sea and 

A similar exodus occurred at Ipswich. The day 
the warrants came down, as for many days previous, 
the ancient borough was full of seamen ; but no 
sooner did it become known that the press was out 

1 Ad. I. i486— Capt. Baird, 29 March and 21 April 1755. 


than they vanished like the dew of the morning. 
For weeks the face of but one sailor was seen in the 
town, and he was only ferreted out, with the assist- 
ance of a dozen constables, after prolonged and none 
too legal search.^ 

How effectually the sailor could hide when dread 
of the press had him in its grip is strikingly illustrated 
by the hot London press of 1740. On that occasion 
the docks, the riverside slums and dens, the river 
itself both above and below bridge, were scoured by 
gangs who left no stratagem untried for unearthing 
and taking the hidden sailor. When the rigour of 
the press was past not a seaman, it is said, was to be 
found at large in London ; yet within four-and-twenty 
hours sixteen thousand emerged from their retreats.^ 

The secret of such effectual concealment lay in 
the fact that the nature of his hiding-place mattered 
little to the sailor so long as it was secure. Accus- 
tomed to quarters of the most cramped description on 
shipboard, he required little room for his stowing. 
The roughest bed, the worst ventilated hole, the 
most insanitary surroundings and conditions were all 
one to him. He could thus hide himself away in 
places and receptacles from which the average lands- 
man would have turned in fear or disgust. In 
quarry, clay-pit, cellar or well ; in holt, hill or cave ; 
in chimney, hayloft or secret cell behind some old- 
time oven ; in shady alehouse or malodorous slum 
where a man's life was worth nothing unless he had 
the smell of tar upon him, and not much then ; on 
isolated farmsteads and eyots, or in towns too remote 

1 Ad. I. i486— Capt. Brand, 26 Feb. 1755. 
^ Griffiths, Impressment Fully Considered. 


or too hostile for the gangsman to penetrate — some- 
where, somehow and of some sort the sailor found 
his lurking-place, and in it, by good providence, lay 
safe and snug throughout the hottest press. 

Many of the seamen employed in the Newfound- 
land trade of Poole, gaining the shore at Chapman's 
Pool or Lulworth, whiled away their stolen leisure 
either in the clay-pits of the Isle of Purbeck, where 
they defied intrusion by posting armed sentries at 
every point of access to their stronghold, or — their 
favourite haunt — on Portland Island, which the 
number and ill-repute of the labourers employed in 
its stone quarries rendered well-nigh impregnable. 
To search for, let alone to take the seamen frequent- 
ing that natural fortress — who of course ''squared" 
the hard-bitten quarrymen — was more than any gang 
durst undertake unless, as was seldom the case, it 
consisted of some '' very superior force." ^ 

With the solitary exception of Falmouth town, 
the Cornish coast was merely another Portland Neck 
enormously extended. From Rame Head to the 
Lizard and Land's End, and in a minor sense from 
Land's End away to Bude Haven in the far nor'-east, 
the entire littoral of this remote part of the kingdom 
was forbidden ground whereon no gangsman's life 
was worth a moment's purchase. The two hundred 
seins and twice two hundred drift-boats belonging 
to that coast employed at least six thousand fisher- 
men, and of these the greater part, as soon as the 
fishing season was at an end, either turned "tinners" 
and went into the mines, where they were unassail- 

^ Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 5 Aug. 



able/ or betook themselves to their strongholds at 
Newquay, St. Ives, Newland, Mousehole, Coversack, 
Polpero, Cawsand and other places where, in 
common with smugglers, deserters from the king's 
ships at Hamoaze, and an endless succession of 
fugitive merchant seamen, they were as safe from in- 
trusion or capture as they would have been on the 
coast of Labrador. It was impossible either to hunt 
them down or to take them on a coast so " completely 
perforated." A thousand ''stout, able young fellows" 
could have been drawn from this source without being 
missed ; but the gangs fought shy of the task, and 
only when they carried vessels in distress into Fal- 
mouth were the redoubtable sons of the coves ever 

On the Bristol Channel side Lundy Island offered 
unrivalled facilities for evasion, and many were the 
crews marooned there by far-sighted skippers who 
calculated on thus securing them against their return 
from Bristol, outward bound. The gangs as a rule 
gave this little Heligoland a wide berth, and when 
carried thither against their will they had a discon- 
certing habit of running away with the press-boat, 
and of thus marooning their commanding officer, 
that contributed not a little to the immunity the 
island enjoyed.^ 

The sailor's objection to Lundy was as strong as 
the gangsman's. From his point of view it was no 
ideal place to hide in, and the effect upon him of 

1 Ad. I. 581— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 28 Sept. 

^ Ad. I. 579— Admiral M'Bride, 9 March 1795. ^^' i- 57^ — 
Petition of the Inhabitants of the Village of Coversack, 31 Jan. 1778. 

^ Ad. I. 1439— Capt. Aylmer, 22 Dec. 1743. 


enforced sojourn there was to make him sulky and 
mutinous. Rather the shore with all its dangers 
than an island that produced neither tobacco, rum, 
nor women! He therefore preferred sticking to his 
ship, even though he thereby ran the risk of impress- 
ment, until she arrived the length of the Holmes. 

These islands are two in number. Steep Holme 
and Flat Holme, and so closely can vessels approach 
the latter, given favourable weather conditions, that 
a stone may be cast on shore from the deck. The 
business of landing and embarking was consequently 
easy, and though the islands themselves were as 
barren as Lundy of the three commodities the sailor 
loved, he was nevertheless content to terminate his 
voyage there for the following reasons. Under the 
lee of one or other of the islands there was generally 
to be found a boat-load of men who were willing, for 
a suitable return in coin of the realm, to work the 
ship into King Road, the anchorage of the port of 
Bristol. The sailor was thus left free to gain the 
shore in the neighbourhood of Uphill, Weston, or 
Clevedon Bay, whence it was an easy tramp, not to 
Bristol, of which he steered clear because of its gangs, 
but to Bath, or, did he prefer a place nearer at hand, 
to the little town of Pill, near Avon-mouth. 

A favourite haunt of seafaring men, fishermen, 
pilots and pilots' assistants, with a liberal sprinkling 
of that class of female known in sailor lingo as 
"brutes," this lively little town was a place after 
Jack's own heart. The gangsmen gave it a wide 
berth. It offered an abundance of material for him 
to work upon, but that material was a trifle too rough 
even for his infastidious taste. The majority of the 



permanent indwellers of Pill, as well as the casual 
ones, not only protected themselves from the press, 
when such a course was necessary, by a ready use of 
the fist and the club, but, when this means of exemp- 
tion failed them, pleaded the special nature of their 
calling with great plausibility and success. They 
were "pilots' assistants," and as such they enjoyed 
for many years the unqualified indulgence of the 
naval authorities. The appellation they bore was 
nevertheless purely euphemistic. As a matter of fact 
they were sailors' assistants who, under cover of an 
ostensible vocation, made it their real business, at the 
instigation and expense of Bristol shipowners, to 
save crews harmless from the gangs by boarding 
ships at the Holmes and working them from thence 
into the roadstead or to the quays. They are said to 
have been ** very fine young men," and many a long- 
ing look did the impress officers at Bristol cast their 
way whilst struggling to swell their monthly returns. 
So essentially necessary to the trade of the place 
were they considered to be, however, that they were 
allowed to checkmate the gangs, practically without 
molestation or hindrance, till about the beginning 
of the last century, when the Admiralty, suddenly 
awaking to the unpatriotic nature of a practice that 
so effectually deprived the Navy of its due, caused 
them to be served with a notice to the effect that 
"for the future all who navigated ships from the 
Holmes should be pressed as belonging to those 
ships." At this threat the Pill men jeered. Relying 
on the length of pilotage water between King Road 
and Bristol, they took a leaf from the sailor's log and 
ran before the press-boats could reach the ships in 


which they were temporarily employed. For four 
years this state of things continued. Then there was 
struck at the practice a blow which not even the 
Admiralty had foreseen. Tow-paths were constructed 
along the river-bank, and the pilots' assistants, ousted 
by horses, fell an easy prey to the gangs.^ 

Bath had no gang, and was in consequence much 
frequented by sailors of the better class. In 1803 — 
taking that as a normal year — the number within its 
limits was estimated at three hundred — enough to 
man a ship-of-the-line. The fact being duly reported 
to the Admiralty, a lieutenant and gang were ordered 
over from Bristol to do some pressing. The civic 
authorities — mayor, magistrates, constables and watch- 
men — fired with sudden zeal for the service, all came 
forward ''in the most handsome manner" with offers 
of countenance and support, in the purlieus of the 
town, however, the advent of the gang created panic. 
The seamen went into prompt hiding, the mob turned 
out in force, angry and threatening, resolved that no 
gang should violate the sanctuary of a cathedral city. 
Seeing how the wind set, the mayor and magistrates, 
having begun by backing the warrant, continued 
backing until they backed out of the affair altogether. 
The zealous watchmen could not be found, the eager 
constables ran away. Dismayed by these untimely 
defections, the lieutenant hurriedly resolved " to drop 
the business." So the gang marched back to Bristol 
empty-handed, followed by the hearty execrations of 
the rabble and the heartier good wishes of the mayor, 
who assured them that as soon as he should be able 

^ Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 April 



to clap the skulking seamen in jail "on suspicion of 
various misdemeanours," he would send for them 
again.^ We do not learn that he ever did. 

To Bristol no unprotected sailor ever repaired of 
his own free will, for early in the century of pressing 
the chickens of the most notorious kidnapping city in 
England began to come home to roost. The mantle 
of the Bristol mayor whom Jeffreys tried for a " kid- 
napping knave " fell upon a succession of regulating 
captains whose doings put their civic prototype to 
open shame, and more petitions and protests against 
the lawlessness of the gangs emanated from Bristol 
than from any other city in the kingdom. 

The trowmen who navigated the Severn and the 
Wye, belonging as they did mainly to extra-parochial 
spots in the Forest of Dean, were exempt from the 
Militia ballot and the Army of Reserve. On the 
ground that they came under the protection of inland 
navigation, they likewise considered themselves 
exempt from the sea service, but this contention the 
Court of Exchequer in 1798 completely overset by 
deciding that the "passage of the River Severn 
between Gloucester and Bristol is open sea." A 
press-gang was immediately let loose upon the 
numerous tribe frequenting it, whereupon the whole 
body of newly created sailors deserted their trows 
and fled to the Forest, where they remained in hiding 
till the disappointed gang sought other and more 
fruitful fields.^ 

Within Chester gates the sailor for many years 

1 Ad. I. 1528— Capt. Barker, 3 and 11 July 1803. 
^ Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 April 


slept as securely as upon the high seas. No house- 
holder would admit the gangsmen beneath his roof ; 
and when at length they succeeded in gaining a foot- 
hold within the city, all who were liable to the press 
immediately deserted it — ''as they do every town 
where there is a gang " — and went " to reside at Park- 
gate." Parkgate in this way became a resort of sea- 
faring men without parallel in the kingdom— a "nest" 
whose hornet bands were long, and with good reason, 
notorious for their ferocity and aggressiveness.^ An 
attempt to establish a rendezvous here in 1 804 proved 
a failure. The seamen fled, no "business" could be 
done, and officer and gang were soon withdrawn. 

In comparison with the seething Deeside hamlet, 
Liverpool was tameness itself. Now and then, as in 
1745, the sailor element rose in arms, demanding 
who was master ; but as a rule it suffered the gang, 
if not gladly, at least with exemplary patience. 
Homing seamen who desired to evade the press in 
that city — and they were many — fled ashore from 
their ships at Highlake, a spot so well adapted to 
their purpose that it required "strict care to catch 
them." From Highlake they made their way to 
Parkgate, swelling still further the sailor population 
of that far-famed nest of skulkers. 

Cork was a minor Parkgate. A graphic account 
of the conditions obtaining in that city has been left 
to us by Capt. Bennett, of H.M.S. Lennox, who did 
port duty there from May 1779 till March 1783. 
" Many hundreds of the best Seamen in this 
Province," he tells us, " resort in Bodys in Country 
Villages round about here, where they are maintained 

1 Ad. I. 1446— Capt. Ayscough, 17 Nov. 1780. 


by the Crimps, who dispose of them to Bristol, 
Liverpool and other Privateers, who appoint what 
part of the Coast to take them on Board. They go in 
Bodys, even in the Town of Cork, and bid defiance to 
the Press-gangs, and resort in houses armed, and laugh 
at both civil and military Power. This they did at 
Kinsale, where they threatened to pull the Jail down in 
a garrison'd To wn. "^ These tactics rendered the costly 
press-gangs all but useless. A hot press at Cork, 
in 1796, yielded only sixteen men fit for the service. 

Space fails us to tell of how, owing to a three 
days' delay in the London post that brought the 
warrants to Newhaven in the spring of '78, the 
"alarm of soon pressing" spread like wildfire along 
that coast and drove every vessel to sea ; of how 
*' three or four hundred young fellows " belonging to 
Great Yarmouth and Gorleston, who had no families 
and could well have been spared without hindrance 
to the seafaring business of those towns, thought 
otherwise and took a little trip of ** thirty or forty 
miles in the country to hide from tbe service " ; or 
of how Capt. Routh, of the rendezvous at Leeds, 
happened upon a great concourse of skulkers at 
Castleford, whither they had been drawn by reasons 
of safety and the alleged fact that 

"Castleford woman must needs be fair, 
Because they wash both in Calder and Aire," 

and after two unsuccessful attempts at surprise, at 
length took them with the aid of the military. These 
were everyday incidents which were accepted as 
matters of course and surprised nobody. Neverthe- 
1 Ad. I. 1502— Capt. Bennett, 12 and 26 April 1782. 


less the vagaries of the wayward children of the 
State, who chose to run away and hide instead of 
remaining to play the game, cost the naval authorities 
many an anxious moment. They had to face both 
evasion and invasion, and the prevalence of the one 
did not help to repel the other. 

His country's fear of invasion by the French 
afforded the seafaring man the chance of the century. 
Pitt's Quota Bill put good money in his pocket at 
the expense of his liberty, but in Admiral Sir Home 
Popham's great scheme for the defence of the coasts 
against Boney and his fiat-bottomed boats he scented 
something far more to his advantage and taste. 

From the day in 1796 when Capt. Moriarty, press- 
gang-officer at Cork, reported the arrival of the 
long-expected Brest fleet off the Irish coast,^ the 
question how best to defend from sudden attack so 
enormously extended and highly vulnerable a sea- 
board as that of the United Kingdom, became one 
of feverish moment. At least a hundred different 
projects for compassing that desirable end at one 
time or another claimed the attention of the Navy 
Board.^ One of these was decidedly ingenious. It 
aimed at destroying the French flotilla by means of 
logs of wood bored hollow and charged with gun- 
powder and ball. These were to be launched against 
the invaders somewhat after the manner of the 
modern torpedo, of which they were, in fact, the 
primitive type and original.^ 

^ Ad. I. 162 1— Capt. Crosby, 30 Dec. 1796. 

2 Ad. I. 581— Admiral Knowles, 25 Jan. 1805. 

^ Ad. I. 580— Rear- Admiral Young, 14 Aug. 1803, and secret 
enclosure, as in the Appendix. The Admiral's " machine," as he termed 
it, though embodying the true torpedo idea of an explosive device to be 


Meantime, however, the Admiralty had adopted 
another plan — Admiral Popham, already famous for 
his improved code of signals, its originator. On 
paper it possessed the merits of all Haldanic substi- 
tutes for the real thing. It was patriotic, cheap, 
simple as kissing your hand. All you had to do was 
to take the fisherman, the longshoreman and other 
stalwarts who lived " one foot in sea and one on 
shore," enroll them in corps under the command (as 
distinguished from the control) of naval officers, and 
practise them (on Sundays, since it was a work of 
strict necessity) in the use of the pike and the cannon, 
and, hey presto ! the country was as safe from 
invasion as if the meddlesome French had never 
been. The expense would be trivial. Granting 
that the French did not take alarm and incontinently 
drop their hostile designs upon the tight little island, 
there would be a small outlay for pay, a trifle of a 
shilling a day on exercise days, but nothing more — 
except for martello towers. The boats it was proposed 
to enroll and arm would cost nothing. Their patriotic 
owners were to provide them free of charge. 

Such was the Popham scheme on paper. On a 
working basis it proved quite another thing. The 
pikes provided were old ship-pikes, rotten and worth- 
less. The only occasion on which they appear to 
have served any good purpose was when, at Gerrans 
and St. Mawes, the Fencibles joined the mob and 

propelled against an enemy's ship, was not designed to be so propelled 
on its own buoyancy, but by means of a fishing-boat, in which it lay 
concealed. Had his inventive genius taken a bolder flight and given us 
a more finished product in place of this crudity, the Whitehead 
torpedo would have been anticipated, in something more than mere 
principle, by upwards of half a century. 


terrified the farmers, who were ignorant of the actual 
condition of the pikes, into selling their corn at 
something less than famine prices/ Guns hoary with 
age, requisitioned from country churchyards and 
village greens where they had rusted, some of them, 
ever since the days of Drake and Raleigh, were 
dragged forth and proudly grouped as "parks of 
artillery."^ Signal stations could not be seen one 
from the other, or, if visible, perpetrated signals no 
one could read. The armed smacks were equally 
unreliable. In Ireland they could not be "trusted 
out of sight with a gun."^ In England they left the 
guns behind them. The weight, the patriotic owners 
discovered, seriously hampered the carrying capacity 
and seaworthiness of their boats ; so to abate the 
nuisance they hove the guns overboard on to the 
beach, where they were speedily buried in sand or 
shingle, while the appliances were carried off by those 
who had other uses for them than their country's 
defence. The vessels thus armed, moreover, were 
always at sea, the men never at home. When it was 
desired to practise them in the raising of the sluice- 
gates which, in the event of invasion, were to convert 
Romney Marsh into an inland sea, no efforts availed 
to get together sufficient men for the purpose. 
Immune from the press by reason of their newly 
created status of Sea-Fencibles, they were all else- 
where, following their time-honoured vocations of 
fishing and smuggling with industry and gladness of 
heart. As a means of repelling invasion the Popham 

^ Ad. I. 579— Capt. Spry, 14 April 1801. 
^ Ad. I. 1 5 13— Capt. Bradley, 21 Aug. 1796. 
^ Ad. I. 1529— Capt. Bowen, 12 Oct. 1803. 


scheme was farcical and worthless ; as a means of 
evading the press it was the finest thing ever 
invented/ The only benefits the country ever drew 
from it, apart from this, were two. It provided the 
Admiralty with an incomparable register of seafaring 
men, and some modern artists with secluded summer 

It goes without saying that a document of such 
vital consequence to the seafaring man as an 
Admiralty protection did not escape the attention of 
those who, from various motives, sought to aid and 
abet the sailor in his evasion of the press. Protections 
were freely lent and exchanged, bought and sold, 
•* coaxed," concocted and stolen. Skilful predecessors 
of Jim the Penman imitated to the life the signatures 
of Pembroke and Sandwich, Lord High Admirals, 
and of the lesser fry who put the official hand to 
those magic papers. ''Great abuses" were "com- 
mitted that way." Bogus protections could be 
obtained at Sunderland for 8s. 6d., Stephenson and 
Collins, the disreputable schoolmasters who made 
a business of faking them, coining money by the 
** infamous practice." In London ''one Broucher, 
living in St. Michael's Lane," supplied them to all 
comers at jf3 apiece. Even the Navy Office was 
not above suspicion in this respect, for in '98 a clerk 
there, whose name does not transpire, was accused of 
adding to his income by the sale of bogus protections 
at a guinea a head.^ 

^ Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Reports on Sea-Fencibles, 1805 ; 
Admiral Lord Keith, Sentiments upon the Sea-Fencible System, 7 
Jan. 1805. 

* Ad. I. 2740— Lieut. Abbs, 5 Oct. 1798. 


American protections were the Admiralty's pet 
bugbear. For many years after the successful issue 
of the War of Independence a bitter animosity 
characterised the attitude of the British naval officer 
towards the American sailor. Whenever he could be 
laid hold of he was pressed, and no matter what 
documents he produced in evidence of his American 
birth and citizenship, those documents were almost 
invariably pronounced false and fraudulent. 

There were weighty reasons, however, for refusing 
to accept the claim of the alleged American sailor 
at its face value. No class of protection was so 
generally forged, so extensively bought and sold, 
as the American. Practically every British seaman 
who made the run to an American port took the 
precaution, during his sojourn in that land of liberty, 
to provide himself with spurious papers against his 
return to England, where he hoped, by means of 
them, to checkmate the gang. The process of 
obtaining such papers was simplicity itself. All the 
sailor had to do, at, say. New York, was to apply 
himself to one Riley, whose other name was Paddy. 
The sum of three dollars having changed hands, 
Riley and his client betook themselves to the retreat 
of some shady Notary Public, where the Irishman 
made ready oath that the British seaman was as much 
American born as himself. The business was now as 
good as done, for on the strength of this lying 
affidavit any Collector of Customs on the Atlantic 
coast would for a trifling fee grant the sailor a certifi- 
cate of citizenship. Riley created American citizens 
in this way at the rate, it is said, of a dozen a day,^ 

^ Ad. I. 1523 — Deposition of Zacharias Pasco, 20 Jan. 1800. 


and as he was only one of many plying the same lucra- 
tive trade, the effect of such wholesale creations upon 
the impress service in England, had they been allowed 
to pass unchallenged, may be readily conceived. 

The fraud, worse luck for the service, was by no 
means confined to America. Almost every home 
seaport had its recognised purveyor of '* false 
American passes." At Liverpool a former clerk to 
the Collector of Customs for Pembroke, Pilsbury by 
name, grew rich on them, whilst at Greenock, Shields 
and other north-country shipping centres they were 
for many years readily procurable of one Walter 
Gilly and his confederates, whose transactions in this 
kind of paper drove the Navy Board to desperation. 
They accordingly instructed Capt. Brown, gang- 
officer at Greenock, to take Gilly at all hazards, but 
the fabricator of passes fled the town ere the gang 
could be put on his track.^ 

Considering that every naval officer, from the 
Lord High Admiral downwards, had these facts 
and circumstances at his fingers' ends, it is hardly 
surprising that protections having, or purporting to 
have, an American origin, should have been viewed 
with profound distrust — distrust too often justified, 
and more than justified, by the very nature of the 
documents themselves. Thus a gentlemen of colour, 
Cato Martin by name, when taken out of the Dolly 
West-Indiaman at Bristol, had the assurance to 
produce a white man's pass certifying his eyes, which 
were undeniably yellow, to be a soft sky-blue, and his 
hair, which was hopelessly black and woolly, to be of 
that well-known hue most commonly associated with 

Ad. I. 1549— Capt. Brown, 22 Aug. 1809. 


hair grown north of the Tweed. It was reserved, 
however, for an able seaman bearing the distinguished 
name of Oliver Cromwell to break all known records 
in this respect. When pressed, he unblushingly 
produced a pass dated in America the 29th of May 
and visdd by the American Consul in London on the 
6th of June immediately following, thus conferring on 
its bearer the unique distinction of having crossed the 
Atlantic in eight days at a time when the voyage 
occupied honester men nearly as many weeks. To 
press such frauds was a public benefit. On the other 
hand, one confesses to a certain sympathy with the 
American sailor who was pressed because he ** spoke 
English very well."^ 

Believing in the simplicity of his heart that others 
were as gullible as himself, the fugitive sailor sought 
habitually to hide his identity beneath some temporary 
disguise of greater or less transparency. That of 
farm labourer was perhaps his favourite choice. The 
number of seamen so disguised, and employed on 
farms within ten miles of the coast between Hull 
and Whitby prior to the sailing of the Greenland and 
Baltic ships in 1803, was estimated at more than a 
thousand able-bodied men.*^ Seamen using the New- 
foundland trade of Dartmouth were "half-farmer, half- 
sailor." When the call of the sea no longer lured them, 
they returned to the land in an agricultural sense, re- 
sorting in hundreds to the farmsteads in the Southams, 
where they were far out of reach of the gangs.^ 

1 Ad. I. 2734— Capt. Yorke, 8 March 1798. 

2 Ad. I. 580— Admiral Phillip, Report on Rendezvous, 25 April 1804. 

^ Ad. I. 579— Admiral M'Bride, Report on Rendezvous, 28 Feb. 



In his endeavours to escape the gang the sailor 
resembled nothing so much as that hopelessly- 
impotent fugitive the flying-fish. For both the sea 
swarmed with enemies bent on catching them. Both 
sought to evade those enemies by flight, and both, 
their ineffectual flight ended, returned to the sea 
again whether they would or not. It was their fate, 
a deep-sea kismet as unavoidable as death. 

The ultimate destination of the sailor who by 
strategy or accident succeeded in eluding the triple 
line of sea-gangs so placed as to head him off from 
the coast, was thus never in doubt. His longest 
flights were those he made on land, for here the 
broad horizon that stood the gangs in such good 
stead at sea was measurably narrower, while hiding- 
places abounded and were never far to seek. All 
the same, in spite of these adventitious aids to self- 
effacement, the predestined end of the seafaring man 
sooner or later overtook him. The gang met him 
at the turning of the ways and wiped him off the 
face of the land. In the expressive words of a 
naval officer w^ho knew the conditions thoroughly 
well, the sailor's chances of obtaining a good run 
for his money " were not worth a chaw of tobacco." 


For this inevitable finish to all the sailor's attempts 
at flight on shore there existed in the main two 
reasons. The first of these lay in the sailor himself, 
making of him an unconscious aider and abettor in 
his own capture. Just as love and a cough cannot 
be hid, so there was no disguising the fact that the 
sailor was a sailor. He was marked by character- 
istics that infallibly betrayed him. His bandy legs 
and rolling gait suggested irresistibly the way of a 
ship at sea, and no " soaking " in alehouse or tavern 
could eliminate the salt from the peculiar oaths that 
were as natural to him as the breath of life. Assume 
what disguise he would, he fell under suspicion at 
sight, and he had only to open his mouth to turn 
that suspicion into certainty. It needed no Sherlock 
Holmes of a gangsman to divine what he was or 
whence he came. 

The second reason why the sailor could never 
long escape the gangs was because the gangs were 
numerically too many for him. It was no question 
of a chance gang here and there. The country 
swarmed with them. 

Take the coast. Here every seaport of any 
pretensions in the way of trade, together with every 
spot between such ports known to be favoured or 
habitually used by the homing sailor as a landing- 
place, with certain exceptions already noted, either 
had its own particular gang or was closely watched 
by some gang stationed within easy access of the 
spot. In this way the whole island was ringed 
in by gangs on shore, just as it was similarly ringed 
in by other gangs afloat. 

"If their Lordships would give me authority to 


press here," says Lieut. Oakley, writing to the Sea 
Lords from Deal in 1743, ** I could frequently pick up 
good seamen ashoar. I mean seamen who by some 
means escape being prest by the men of war and tenders y 

In this modest request the lieutenant states the 
whole case for the land-gang, at once demonstrating 
its utility and defining its functions. Unconsciously 
he does more. He echoes a cry that incessantly 
assailed the ears of Admiralty : ** The sailor has 
escaped ! Send us warrants and give us gangs, and 
we will catch him yet." 

It was this call, the call of the fleet, that dominated 
the situation and forced order out of chaos. The 
men must be *'rose," and only method could do it. 
The demand was a heavy one to make upon the 
most unsystematic system ever known, yet it survived 
the ordeal. The coast was mapped out, warrants 
were dispatched to this point and that, rendezvous 
were opened, gangs formed. No effort or outlay 
was spared to take the sailor the moment he got 
ashore, or very soon after. 

In this systematic setting of land-traps that vast 
head- centre of the nation's overseas trade, the metro- 
polis, naturally had first place. The streets, and 
especially the waterside streets, were infested with 
gangs. At times it was unsafe for any able-bodied 
man to venture abroad unless he had on him an 
undeniable protection or wore a dress that unmis- 
takeably proclaimed the gentleman. The general 
rendezvous was on Tower Hill ; but as ships com- 
pleting their complement nearly always sent a gang 
or two to London, minor rendezvous abounded. St. 
Katherine's by the Tower was specially favoured by 


them. The ** Rotterdam Arms " and the ** Two 
Dutch Skippers," well-known taverns within that 
precinct, were seldom without the bit of bunting 
that proclaimed the headquarters of the gang. At 
Westminster the "White Swan" in King's Street 
usually bore a similar decoration, as did also the 
♦'Ship" in Holborn. 

A characteristic case of pressing by a gang using 
the last-named house occurred in 1706. Ran- 
sacking the town in quest of pressable subjects of 
Her Majesty, they came one day to the '' Cock and 
Rummer" in Bow Street, where a big dinner was 
in progress. Here nothing would suit their tooth 
but mine host's apprentice, and as ill-luck would 
have it the apprentice was cook to the establishment 
and responsible for the dinner. Him they never- 
theless seized and would have hurried away in spite 
of his master's supplications, protests and offers of 
free drinks, had it not been for the fact that a mob 
collected and forcibly prevented them. Other gangs 
hurrying to the assistance of their hard-pressed com- 
rades — to the number, it is said, of sixty men — a 
free fight ensued, in the course of which a burly 
constable, armed with a formidable longstaff, was 
singled out by the original gang, doubtless on account 
of the prominent part he took in the fray, as a fitting 
substitute for the apprentice. By dint of beating the 
poor fellow till he was past resistance they at length 
got him to the " Ship," where they were in the very 
act of bundling him into a coach, with the intention 
of carrying him to the waterside below bridge, and 
of their putting him on board the press - smack, 
when in the general confusion he somehow effected 


his escape.^ Such incidents were common enough 
not only at that time but long after. 

At Gravesend sailors came ashore in such 
numbers from East India and other ships as to 
keep a brace of gangs busy. Another found enough 
to do at Broadstairs, whence a large number of 
vessels sailed in the Iceland cod fishery and similar 
industries. Faversham was a port and had its gang, 
and from Margate right away to Portsmouth, and 
from Portsmouth to Plymouth, nearly every town of 
any size that offered ready hiding to the fugitive 
sailor from the Channel was similarly favoured. 
Brighton formed a notable exception, and this cir- 
cumstance gave rise to an episode about which we 
shall have more to say presently. 

To record in these pages the local of all the gangs 
that were stationed in this manner upon the seaboard 
of the kingdom would be as undesirable as it is 
foreign to the scope of this chapter. Enough to 
repeat that the land, always the sailors objective 
in eluding the triple cordon of sea-borne gangs, 
was ringed in and surrounded by a circle of land- 
gangs in every respect identical with that described 
as hedging the southern coast, and in its continuity 
almost as unbroken as the shore itself. Both sea- 
gangs and coast-gangs were amphibious, using either 
land or sea at pleasure. 

Inland the conditions were the same, yet materially 
different. What was on the coast an encircling line 
assumed here the form of a vast net, to which the 
principal towns, the great cross-roads and the arterial 
bridges of the country stood in the relation of reticular 
1 "A Horrible Relation," Review^ 17 March 1705-6. 


knots, while the constant ''ranging" of the gangs, 
now in this direction, now in that, suppHed the 
connecting filaments or threads. The gangs com- 
posing this great inland net were not amphibious. 
Their most desperate aquatic ventures were confined 
to rivers and canals. Ability to do their twenty miles 
a day on foot counted for more with them than a 
knowledge of how to handle an oar or distinguish 
the "cheeks" of a gaff from its *'jaw." 

Just as the sea-gangs in their raids upon the land 
were the Danes and " creekmen " of their time, so 
the land-gangsman was the true highwayman of 
the century that begot him. He kept every strategic 
point of every main thoroughfare, held all the bridges, 
watched all the ferries, haunted all the fairs. No 
place where likely men were to be found escaped his 
calculating eye. 

He was an inveterate early riser, and sailors 
sauntering to the fair for want of better employ- 
ment ran grave risks. In this way a large number 
were taken on the road to Croydon fair one morning 
in September 1743. For actual pressing the fair 
itself was unsafe because of the great concourse 
of people ; but it formed one of the best possible 
hunting-grounds and was kept under close observa- 
tion for that reason. Here the gangsman marked 
his victim, whose steps he dogged into the country 
when his business was done or his pleasure ended, 
never for a moment losing sight of him until he 
walked into the trap all ready set in s*- ne wayside 
spinny or beneath some sheltering bridge. 

Bridges were the inland gangsman's favourite 
haunt. They not only afforded ready concealment, 


they had to be crossed. Thus Lodden Bridge, near 
Reading, accounted one of the *' likeliest places in 
the country for straggling seamen," was seldom 
without its gang. Nor was the great bridge at 
Gloucester, since, as the first bridge over the Severn, 
it drew to itself all the highroads and their users 
from Wales and the north. To sailors making for 
the south coast from those parts it was a point of 
approach as dangerous as it was unavoidable. Great 
numbers were taken here in consequence.^ 

So of ferries. The passage boats at Queensfefry 
on the Firth of Forth, watched by gangs from 
Inverkeithing, yielded almost as many men in the 
course of a year as the costly rendezvous at Leith. 
Greenock ferries proved scarcely less productive. 
But there was here an exception. The ferry between 
Glenfinart and Greenock plied only twice a week, 
and as both occasions coincided with market - days 
the boat was invariably crowded with women. Only 
once did it yield a man. Peter Weir, the hand in 
charge, one day overset the boat, drowning every 
soul on board except himself. Thereupon the gang 
pressed him, arguing that one who used the sea so 
effectively could not fail to make a valuable addition 
to the fleet. 

Inland towns traversed by the great highroads 
leading from north to south, or from east to west, 
were much frequented by the gangs. Amongst these 
Stourbridge perhaps ranked first. Situated midway 
between the great ports of Liverpool and Bristol, 
it easily and effectually commanded Birmingham, 

^ Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 April 


Wolverhampton, Bridgnorth, Bewdley, Kidder- 
minster and other populous towns, while it was too 
small to afford secure hiding within itself. The 
gangs operating from Stourbridge brought in an 
endless procession of ragged and travel - stained 

From ports on the Bristol Channel to ports on 
the English Channel, and the reverse, many seamen 
crossed the country by stage-coach or wagon, and 
to intercept them gangs were stationed at Okehamp- 
ton, Liskeard and Exeter. Taunton and Salisbury 
also, as "great thoroughfares to and from the west," 
had each its gang, and a sufficient number of sailors 
escaped the press at the latter place to justify the 
presence of another at Romsey. Andover had a 
gang as early as 1756, on the recommendation of 
no less a man than Rodney. 

Shore gangs were of necessity ambulatory. To 
sit down before the rendezvous pipe in hand, and 
expect the evasive sailor to come of his own accord 
and beg the favour of being pressed, would have been 
a futile waste of time and tobacco. The very essence 
of the gangman's duty lay in the leg-work he did. 
To that end he ate the king's victuals and wore the 
king's shoe-leather. Consequently he was early afoot 
and late to bed. Ten miles out and ten home made 
up his daily constitutional, and if he saw fit to exceed 
that distance he did not incur his captain's displeasure. 
The gang at Reading, a strategic point of great im- 
portance on the Bath and Bristol road, traversed all 
the country round about within a radius of twenty 
miles — double the regulation distance. That at 

^ Ad. I. 1500 — Letters of Capt. Beecher, 1780. 


King's Lynn, another centre of unmeasured possi- 
bilities, trudged as far afield as Boston, Ely, 
Peterborough and Wells-on-Sea. And the Isle of 
Wight gang, stationed at Cowes or Ryde, now and 
then co-operated with a gang from Portsmouth or 
Gosport and ranged the whole length and breadth 
of the island, which was a noted nest of deserters 
and skulkers. "Range," by the way, was a word 
much favoured by the officers who led such expedi- 
tions. Its use is happy. It suggests the object 
well in view, the nicely calculated distance, the steady 
aim that seldom missed its mark. The gang that 
** ranged " rarely returned empty-handed. 

On these excursions the favourite resting-place 
was some secluded nook overlooking the point of 
crossing of two or more highroads ; the favourite 
place of refreshment, some busy wayside alehouse. 
Both were good to rest or refresh in, for at both 
the chances of effecting a capture were far more 
numerous than on the open road. 

The object of the gang in taking the road was 
not, however, so much what could be picked up by 
chance in the course of a day's march, as the execu- 
tion of some preconcerted design upon a particular 
person or place. This brings us to the methods of 
pressing commonly adopted, which may be roughly 
summarised under the three heads of surprise, 
violence and the hunt. Frequently all three were 
combined ; but as in the case of gangs operating 
on the waters of rivers or harbours, the essential 
element in all pre-arranged raids, attacks and pre- 
datory expeditions was the first-named element, 
surprise. In this respect the gangsmen were genuine 


" Peep-o'-Day Boys." The siege of Brighton is a 
notable case in point. 

The inhabitants of Brighton, better known in the 
days of the press-gang as Brighthelmstone, consisted 
largely of fisher-folk in respect to whom the Admiralty 
had been guilty of one of its rare oversights. For gen- 
erations no call was made upon them to serve the king 
at sea. This accidental immunity in course of time 
came to be regarded by the Brighton fisherman as his 
birthright, and the misconception bred consequences. 
For one thing, it made him intolerably saucy. He 
boasted that no impress officer had power to take 
him, and he backed up the boast by openly insulting, 
and on more than one occasion violently assaulting 
the king's uniform. With all this he was a hardy, 
long-lived, lusty fellow, and as his numbers were 
never thinned by that active corrector of an excessive 
birth-rate, the press-gang, he speedily overstocked the 
town. An energetic worker while his two great 
harvests of herring and mackerel held out, he was 
at other times indolent, lazy and careless of the 
fact that his numerous progeny burdened the rates.^ 
These unpleasing circumstances having been duly 
reported to the Admiralty, their Lordships decided 
that what the Brighton fisherman required to correct 
his lax principles and stiffen his backbone was a good 
hot press. They accordingly issued orders for an 
early raid to be made upon that promising nursery 
of man-o'-war's-men. 

The orders, which were of course secret, bore 
date the 3rd of July 1779, and were directed to 

^ Ad. I. 580— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 31 Dec. 


Capt. Alms, who, as regulating officer at Shoreham, 
was likewise in charge of the gang at Newhaven 
under Lieut. Bradley, and of the gang at Litde- 
hampton under Lieut. Breedon. At Shoreham there 
was also a tender, manned by an able crew. With 
these three gangs and the tender's crew at his back, 
Alms determined to lay siege to Brighton and teach 
the fishermen there a lesson they should not soon 
forget. But first, in order to render the success of 
the project doubly sure, he enlisted the aid of Major- 
General Sloper, Commandant at Lewes, who readily 
consented to lend a company of soldiers to assist in 
the execution of the design. 

These preparations were some little time in the 
making, and it was not until the Thursday immedi- 
ately preceding the 24th of July that all was in 
readiness. On the night of that day, by preconcerted 
arrangement, the allied forces took the road — for the 
Littlehampton gang, a matter of some twenty miles — 
and at the first flush of dawn united on the outskirts 
of the sleeping town, where the soldiers were without 
loss of time so disposed as to cut off every avenue 
of escape. This done, the gangs split up and by 
devious ways, but with all expedition, concentrated 
their strength upon the quay, expecting to find there 
a large number of men making ready for the day's 
fishing. To their intense chagrin the quay was 
deserted. The night had been a tempestuous one, 
with heavy rain, and though the unfortunate gangs- 
men were soaked to the skin, the fishermen all lay 
dry in bed. Hearing the wind and rain, not a man 
turned out. 

By this time the few people who were abroad on 


necessary occasions had raised the alarm, and on 
every hand were heard loud cries of " Press-gang ! " 
and the hurried barricading of doors. For ten hours 
"every man kept himself locked up and bolted." 
For ten hours Alms waited in vain upon the local 
Justice of the Peace for power to break and enter the 
fishermen's cottages. His repeated requests being 
refused, he was at length " under the necessity of 
quitting the town with only one man." So ended the 
siege of Brighton ; but Bradley, on his way back to 
Newhaven, fell in with a gang of smugglers, of whom 
he pressed five. Brighton did not soon forget the 
terrors of that rain-swept morning. For many a long 
day her people were " very shy, and cautious of 
appearing in public." The salutary effects of the 
raid, however, did not extend to the fishermen it was 
intended to benefit. They became more insolent than 
ever, and a few years later marked their resentment 
of the attempt to press them by administering a sound 
thrashing to Mr. Midshipman Sealy, of the Shoreham 
rendezvous, whom they one day caught unawares.^ 

The surprise tactics of the gang of course varied 
according to circumstances, and the form they took 
was sometimes highly ingenious. A not uncommon 
stratagem was the impersonation of a recruiting party 
beating up for volunteers. With cockades in their 
hats, drums rolling and fifes shrilling, the gangsmen, 
who of course had their arms concealed, marched 
ostentatiously through the high-street of some sizable 
country town and so into the market-place. Since 
nobody had anything to fear from a harmless recruit- 
ing party, people turned out in strength to see the 

1 Ad. I. i445-46--Letters of Capt. Alms. 


sight and listen to the music. When they had in this 
way drawn as many as they could into the open, the 
gangsmen suddenly threw off their disguise and seized 
every pressable person they could lay hands on. 
Market-day was ill-adapted to these tactics. 1 1 brought 
too big a crowd together. 

A similar ruse was once practised with great 
success upon the inhabitants of Portsmouth by Capt. 
Bowen of the Dreadnought, in connection with a 
general press which the Admiralty had secretly ordered 
to be made in and about that town. Dockyard towns 
were not as a rule considered good pressing-grounds 
because of the drain of men set up by the ships of 
war fitting out there ; but Bowen had certainly no 
reason to subscribe to that opinion. Late on the 
night of the 8th of March 1803, he landed a company 
of marines at Gosport for the purpose, as it was 
given out, of suppressing a mutiny at Fort Monckton. 
The news spread rapidly, drawing crowds of people 
from their homes in anticipation of an exciting 
scrimmage. This gave Bowen the opportunity he 
counted upon. When the throngs had crossed Haslar 
Bridge he posted marines at the bridge-end, and as the 
disappointed people came pouring back the ** jollies " 
pressed every man in the crowd. Five hundred are 
said to have been taken on this occasion, but as the 
nature of the service forbade discrimination at the 
moment of pressing, nearly one-half were next day 
discharged as unfit or exempt.^ 

Sometimes, though not often, it was the gang that 
was surprised. All hands would perhaps be snug in 
bed after a long and trying day, when suddenly a 

* Ad. I. 1057 — Admiral Milbanke, 9 March 1803. 


thunderous knocking at the rendezvous door, and 
stentorian cries of: ''Turn out! turn out there!" 
coupled with epithets here unproducible, would bring 
every man of them into the street in the turn of a 
handspike, half-dressed but fully armed and awake to 
the fact that a party of belated seamen was coming 
down the road. The sailors were perhaps more road- 
weary than the gangsmen, and provided none of them 
succeeded in slipping away in the darkness, or made 
a successful resistance, in half-an-hour's time or less 
the whole party would be safe under lock and key, 
cursing luck for a scurvy trickster in delivering them 
over to the gang. 

The sailor's well-known partiality for drink was 
constantly turned to account by the astute gangsman. 
If a sailor himself, he laid aside his hanger or cudgel 
and played the game of '' What ho ! shipmate " at 
the cost of a can or two of flip, gently guiding his 
boon companion to the rendezvous when he had 
got him sufficiently corned. Failing these tactics, he 
adopted others equally effective. At Liverpool, where 
the seafaring element was always a large one, it was 
a common practice for the gangs to lie low for a time, 
thus inducing the sailor to believe himself safe from 
molestation. He immediately indulged in a desperate 
drinking bout and so put himself entirely in their 
power. Whether rolling about the town " very much 
in liquor," or "snugly moored in Sot's Bay," he was 
an easy victim. 

Another ineradicable weakness that often landed 
the sailor in the press-room was his propensity to 
indulge in ''swank." Two jolly tars, who were 
fully protected and consequently believed themselves 


immune from the press, once bought a four-wheeled 
post-chaise and hired a painter in Long Acre to 
ornament it with anchors, masts, cannon and a variety 
of other objects emblematic of the sea. In this ornate 
vehicle they set out, behind six horses, with the 
intention of posting down to Alnwick, where their 
sweethearts lived. So impatient were they to get 
over the road that they could not be prevailed upon, 
at any of the numerous inns where they pulled up for 
refreshment, to stop long enough to have the wheels 
properly greased, crying out at the delay : ** Avast 
there ! she's had tar enough," and so on again. Just 
as they were making a triumphal entry into Newcastle- 
upon-Tyne the wheels took fire, and the chaise, satur- 
ated with the liquor they had spilt in the course 
of their mad drive, burst into flames fore and aft. 
The sailors bellowed lustily for help, whereupon the 
spectators ran to their assistance and by swamping 
the ship with buckets of water succeeded in putting 
out the fire. Now it happened that in the crowd 
drawn together by such an unusual occurrence there 
was an impress officer who was greatly shocked by 
the exhibition. He considered that the sailors had 
been guilty of unseemly behaviour, and on that 
ground had them pressed. Notwithstanding their 
protections they were kept. 

In his efforts to swell the returns of pressed men 
the gangsman was supposed — we may even go so far 
as to say enjoined — to use no more violence than 
was absolutely necessary to attain his end. The 
question of force thus resolved itself into one of the 
degree of resistance he encountered. Needless to 
say, he did not always knock a man down before 


bidding him stand in the king's name. Recourse to 
measures so extreme was not always necessary. Every 
sailor had not the pluck to fight, and even when he 
had both the pluck and the good-will, hard drinking, 
weary days of tramping, or long abstinence from food 
had perhaps sapped his strength, leaving him in no 
fit condition to hold his owrl in a scrap with the well- 
fed gangsman. The latter consequently had it pretty 
much his own way. A firm hand on the shoulder, or 
at the most a short, sharp tussle, and the man was 
his. But there were exceptions to this easy rule, as 
we shall see in our next chapter. 

Hunting the sailor was largely a matter of informa- 
tion, and unfortunately for his chances of escape 
informers were seldom wanting. Everywhere it was 
a game at hide-and-seek. Constables had orders to 
report him. Chapmen, drovers and soldiers, persons 
who were much on the road, kept a bright lookout 
for him. The crimp, habitually given to underhand 
practices, turned informer when prices for seamen 
ruled low in the service he usually catered for. His 
mistress loved him as long as his money lasted ; when 
he had no more to throw away upon her she perfidi- 
ously betrayed him. And for all this there was a 
reason as simple as casting up the number of shillings 
in the pound. No matter how penniless the sailor 
himself might be, he was always worth that sum at 
the rendezvous. Twenty shillings was the reward paid 
for information leading to his apprehension as a 
straggler or a skulker, and it was largely on the strength 
of such informations, and often under the personal 
guidance of such detestable informers, that the gang 
went a-hunting. 


Apart from greed of gain, the motive most 
commonly underlying informations was either jealousy 
or spite. Women were the greatest sinners in the 
first respect. Let the sailorman concealed by a 
woman only so much as look with favour upon 
another, and his fate was sealed. She gave him away, 
or, what was more profitable, sold him without regret. 
There were as good fish in the sea as ever came out. 
Perhaps better. 

On the wings of spite and malice the escapades of 
youth often came home to roost after many years. 
Men who had run away to sea as lads, but had after- 
wards married and settled down, were informed on 
by evil-disposed persons who bore them some grudge, 
and torn from their families as having used the sea. 
Stephen Kemp, of Warbelton in Sussex, one of the 
many who suffered this fate, had indeed used the sea, 
but only for a single night on board a fishing-boat.^ 

In face of these infamies it is good to read of how 
they dealt with informers at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 
There the role was one fraught with peculiar danger. 
Rewards were paid by the Collector of Customs, and 
when a Newcastle man went to the Customs- House 
to claim the price of some sailor's betrayal, the people 
set upon him and incontinently broke his head. One 
notorious receiver of such rewards was " nearly 
murther'd." Thereafter informers had to be paid in 
private places for fear of the mob, and so many 
persons fell under suspicion of playing the dastardly 
game that the regulating captain was besieged by 
applicants for " certificates of innocency."^ 

^ Ad. I. 1445 — Capt. Alms, 9 June 1777. 
' Ad. I. 1497 — Letters of Capt. Bover, 1777. 

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Members] of the Jerufalem Coffee-Houje. 
\ Lhe~^HEATRE in North- Shields. 

On MONDAY, November 24th, 1794. 

Will be porforme,! A ntw COMEDY, called I lie 

World in a Village: 

TRIAL of" "friendship. 

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',7/ Dublin to London. 

AHAM. y \ 

One of the Rarest of Press-Gang Records. 

A play-bill announcing the suspension of the Gang's operations on 
"Play Nights"; in the collection of Mr. A. M. Broadley, 
by whose kind permission it is reproduciqdki , .- 

;, [. (Km. !: i 

1 1; u 0'. I.I /. 


Informations not infrequently took the form of 
anonymous communications addressed by the same 
hand to two different gangs at one and the same time, 
and when this was the case, and both gangs sallied 
forth in quest of the skulker, a collision was pretty sure 
to follow. Sometimes the encounter resolved itself 
into a running fight, in the course of which the poor 
sailor, who formed the bone of contention, was pressed 
and re-pressed several times over between his hiding- 
place and one or other of the rendezvous. 

Rivalry between gangs engaged in ordinary press- 
ing led to many a stirring encounter and bloody 
fracas. A gang sent out by H.M.S. Thetis was once 
attacked, while prowling about the waterside slums 
of Deptford, by ** three or four different gangs, to the 
number of thirty men." ^ There was a greater demand 
for bandages than for sailors in Deptford during the 
rest of the night. 

The most extraordinary affair of this description 
to be met with in the annals of pressing is perhaps 
one that occurred early in the reign of Queen Anne. 
Amongst the men-of-war then lying at Spithead were 
the Dorsetshire, Capt. Butler commander, and the 
Medway. Hearing that some sailors were in hiding 
at a place a little distance beyond Gosport, Capt. 
Butler dispatched his ist and 2nd lieutenants, in 
charge of thirty of his best men, with instructions to 
take them and bring them on board. It so happened 
that a strong gang was at the same time on shore 
from the Medway, presumably on the same errand, 
and this party the Dorsetshires, returning to their 
ship with the seamen they had taken, found posted in 
1 Ad. I. 1502— Capt. Butcher, 29 Oct. 1782. 


the Gosport road for the avowed purpose of re-pressing 
the pressed men. By a timely detour, however, they 
reached the waterside " without any mischief done." 

Meanwhile, a rumour had somehow reached the 
ears of Capt. Butler to the effect that a fight was in 
progress and his i st lieutenant^killed. He immediately 
took boat and hurried over to Gosport, where, to his 
relief, he found his people all safe in their boats, but 
on the Point, to use his own graphic words, " severall 
hundred People, some with drawn Swords, some with 
Spitts, others with Clubbs, Staves & Stretchers. 
Some cry'd ' One & All ! ' others cry'd ' Medways ! ' 
and some again swearing, cursing & banning that they 
would knock my People's Brains out. Off I went 
with my Barge to the Longboat," continues the gallant 
captain, *' commanding them to weigh their grappling 
& goe with me aboard. In the meantime off came 
about twelve Boats full with the Medways men to lay 
my Longboat aboard, who surrounded us with Swords, 
Clubbs, Staves & divers Instruments, & nothing 
would do but all our Brains must be Knock't out. 
Finding how I defended the Longboat, they then 
undertook to attack myselfe and people. One of 
their Boats came upon the stern and made severall 
Blows at my Coxwain, and if it had not been for the 
Resolution I had taken to endure all these Abuses, 
I had Kill'd all those men with my own Hand ; but 
this Boat in particular stuck close to me with only six 
men, and I kept a very good Eye upon her. All 
this time we were rowing out of the Harbour with 
these Boats about us as far as Portsmouth Point, my 
Coxwain wounded, myselfe and People dangerously 
assaulted with Stones which they brought from the 



Beech & threw at us, and as their Boats drop'd off 
I took my opportunity & seized y^ Boat with the Six 
Men that had so attack'd me, and have secured them 
in Irons." With this the incident practically ended ; 
for although the Medways retaliated by seizing and 
carrying off the Dorsetshire^ s coxwain and a crew who 
ventured ashore next day with letters, the latter were 
speedily released ; but for a week Capt, Butler — 
fiery old Trojan ! who could have slain a whole boat's- 
crew with his own hand — remained a close prisoner 
on board his ship. " Should I but put my foot 
ashoar," we hear him growl, '* I am murther'd that 
minute." ^ 

With certain exceptions presently to be noted, 
every man's hand was against the fugitive sailor, and 
this being so it followed as a matter of course that in 
his inveterate pursuit of him the gangsman found 
more honourable allies than that nefarious person, the 
man-selling informer. The class whom the sailor 
himself, in his contempt of the good feeding he never 
shared, nicknamed ** big- bellied placemen" — the 
pompous mayors, the portly aldermen and the county 
magistrate who knew a good horse or hound but 
precious little law, were almost to a man the gangs- 
man's coadjutors. Lavishly wined and dined at 
Admiralty expense, they urbanely " backed " the 
regulating captain's warrants, consistently winked at 
his glaring infractions of law and order, and with the 
most commendable loyalty imaginable did all in their 
power to forward His Majesty's service. Even the 
military, if rightly approached on their pinnacle of 
lofty superiority, now and then condescended to lend 

1 Ad. I. 1467— Capt. Butler, i June 1705. 


the gangsman a hand. Did not Sloper, Major-General 
and Commandant at Lewes, throw a whole company 
into the siege of Brighton ? 

These post-prandial concessions on the part of 
bigwigs desirous of currying favour in high places on 
the whole told heavily against the sorely harassed 
object of the gangsman's quest, rendering it, amongst 
other things, extremely unsafe for him to indulge in 
those unconventional outbursts which, under happier 
conditions, so uniformly marked his jovial moods. At 
the playhouse, for example, he could not heave empty 
bottles or similar tokens of appreciation upon the 
stage without grave risk of incurring the fate that 
overtook Steven David, Samuel Jenkins and Thomas 
Williams, three sailors of Falmouth town who, merely 
because they adopted so unusual a mode of applaud- 
ing a favourite, were by magisterial order handed 
over to Lieut. Box of H.M.S. Blonde, with a per- 
emptory request that they should be transferred forth- 
with to that floating stage where the only recognised 
" turns " were those of the cat and the capstan.^ 

Luckily for the sailor and those of other callings 
who shared his liability to the press, the civil author- 
ities did not range themselves on the gangsman's side 
with complete unanimity. Local considerations of 
trade, coupled with some faint conception of the 
hideous injustice the seafaring classes groaned under, 
and groaned in vain, here and there outweighed 
patriotism and dinners. Little by little a cantankerous 
spirit of opposition got abroad, and every now and 
then, at this point or at that, some mayor or alderman, 
obsessed by this spirit beyond his fellows and his 

^ Ad. I. 1537— Capt. Ballard, 13 Dec. 1806. 


time, seized such opportunities as office threw in his 
way to mark his disapproval of the wrongs the sailor 
suffered. Had this attitude been more general, or 
more consistent in itself, the press-gang would not 
have endured for a day. 

The role of Richard Yea and Nay was, however, 
the favourite one with urban authorities. Towns at 
first not ** inclinable to allow a pressing," afterwards 
relented and took the gang to their bosom, or enter- 
tained it gladly for a time, only to cast it out with 
contumely. A lieutenant who was sent to Newcastle 
to press in 1702 found **no manner of encouragement 
there " ; yet seventy-five years later the Tyneside 
city, thanks to the loyal co-operation of a long 
succession of mayors and of such men as George 
Stephenson, sometime Deputy- Master of the Trinity 
House, had become one of the riskiest in the kingdom 
for the seafaring man who was a stranger within her 
gates. ^ 

The attitude of Poole differed in some respects 
from that of other towns. Her mayors and magistrates, 
while they did not actually oppose the pressing of 
seamen within the borough, would neither back the 
warrants nor lend the gangs their countenance. The 
reason advanced for this disloyal attitude was of the 
absurdest nature. Poole held that in order to press 
twenty men you were not at liberty to kill the twenty- 
first. That, in fact, was what had happened on 
board the Maria brig as she came into port there, 
deeply laden with fish from the Banks, and the 
corporation very foolishly never forgot the trivial 

1 Ad. I. 1498— Capt. Bover, ii Aug. 1778. 


It did not, of course, follow that the Poole sailor 
enjoyed freedom from the press. Far from it. What 
he did enjoy was a reputation that, if not all his 
own, was yet sufficiently so to be shared by few. 
Bred in that roughest of all schools, the New- 
foundland cod fishery, he was an exceptionally 
tough nut to crack. 

*' If Poole were a fish pool 
And the men of Poole fish, 
There'd be a pool for the devil 
And fish for his dish," 

was how the old jibe ran, and in this estimate of the 
Poole man's character the gangs fully concurred. 
They knew him well and liked him little, so when 
bent on pressing him they adopted no squeamish 
measures, but very wisely "trusted to the strength of 
their right arms for it." Some of their attempts to 
take him make strange reading. 

About eight o'clock on a certain winter's evening, 
Regulating Captain Walbeoff, accompanied by Lieut. 
Osmer, a midshipman and eight gangsmen, broke 
into the house of William Trim, a seafaring native of 
the place whom they knew to be at home and had 
resolved to press. Alarmed by the forcing of the 
door, and only too well aware of what it portended, 
Trim made for the stairs, where, turning upon his 
pursuers, he struck repeatedly and savagely at the 
midshipman, who headed them, with a red-hot poker 
which he had snatched out of the fire at the moment 
of his fl'ght. He was, however, quickly overpowered, 
disarmed and dragged back into the lower room, 
where his captors threw him violently to the floor and 
with their hangers took effective measures to prevent 


his escape or further opposition. His sister happened 
to be in the house, and whilst this was going on the 
lieutenant brutally assaulted her, presumably because 
she wished to go to her brother's assistance. Mean- 
while Trim's father, a man near seventy years of age, 
who lived only a stone's-throw away, hearing the 
uproar, and being told the gang had come for his son, 
ran to the house with the intention, as he afterwards 
declared, of persuading him to go quietly. Seeing 
him stretched upon the floor, he stooped to lift him to 
his feet, when one of the gang attacked him and 
stabbed him in the back. He fell bleeding beside 
the younger man, and was there beaten by a number 
of the gangsmen whilst the remainder dragged his son 
off to the press-room, whence he was in due course 
dispatched to the fleet at Spithead. The date of this 
brutal episode is 1804; the manner of it, ''nothing 
more than what usually happened on such occasions " 
in the town of Poole.^ 

For this deplorable state of things Poole had none 
but herself to thank. Had she, instead of merely 
refusing to back the warrants, taken effective measures 
to rid herself of the gang, that mischievous body 
would have soon left her in peace. Rochester wore 
the jewel of consistency in this respect. When Lieut. 
Brenton pressed a youth there who ** appeared to be 
a seafaring man," but turned out to be an exempt city 
apprentice, he was promptly arrested and deprived of 
his sword, the mayor making no bones of telling him 
that his warrant was " useless in Rochester." With 
this broad hint he was discharged ; but the people 

1 Ad. I. 580— Admiral Phillip, Inquiry into the Conduct of the 
Impress Officers at Poole, 13 Aug. 1804. 


proved less lenient than the mayor, for they set about 
him and beat him unmercifully/ 

Save on a single occasion, already incidentally 
referred to, civic Liverpool treated the gang with 
uniform kindness. In 1745, at a time when the rebels 
were reported to be within only four miles of the city, 
the mayor refused to back warrants for the pressing 
of sailors to protect the shipping in the river. His 
reason was a cogent one. The captains of the South- 
sea Castle, the Mercury and the Loo, three ships of 
war then in the Mersey, had just recently "manned 
their boats with marines and impressed from the 
shore near fifty men," and the seafaring element of 
the town, always a formidable one, was up in arms 
because of it. This so intimidated the mayor that he 
dared not sanction further raids "for fear of being 
murder'd."^ His dread of the armed sailor was not 
shared by Henry Alcock, sometime mayor of Water- 
ford. That gentleman ** often headed the press- 
gangs " in person.^ 

Deal objected to the press for reasons extending 
back to the reign of King John. As a member of the 
Cinque Ports that town had constantly supplied the 
kings and queens of the realm, from the time of 
Magna Charta downwards, with great numbers of able 
and sufficient seamen who, according to the ancient 
custom of the Five Ports, had been impressed and 
raised by the mayor and magistrates of the town, 
acting under orders from the Lord Warden, and not 

* Ad, 7. 301 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1784-92, No. 42 : Deposition 
of Lieut. Brenton. 

^ Ad. I. 1440 — Letters of Capt. Amherst, Dec. 1745. 
3 Ad. I. 1500— Capt. Bennett, 13 Nov. 1780. 


by irresponsible gangs from without. It was to these, 
and not to the press as such, that Deal objected. The 
introduction of gangs in her opinion bred disorder. 
Great disturbances, breaches of the peace, riots, 
tumults and even bloodshed attended their steps and 
made their presence in any peaceably disposed com- 
munity highly undesirable. Within the memory of 
living man even, Deal had obliged no less than four 
hundred seamen to go on board the ships of the fleet, 
and she desired no more of those strangers who 
recently, incited by Admiral the Marquis of Car- 
marthen, had gone a-pressing in her streets and 
grievously wounded divers persons.^ 

In this commonsense view of the case Deal was 
ably supported by Dover, the premier Cinque Port. 
Dover, it is true, so far as we know never embodied 
her objections to the press in any humble petition to 
the Queen's Majesty. She chose instead a directer 
method, for when the lieutenant of the Devonshire 
impressed six men belonging to a brigantine from 
Carolina in her streets, and attempted to carry them 
beyond the limits of the borough, " many people of 
Dover, in company with the Mayor thereof, assembled 
themselves together and would not permit the lieu- 
tenant to bring them away." The action angered the 
Lords Commissioners, who resolved to teach Dover a 
lesson. Orders were accordingly sent down to Capt. 
Dent, whose ship the Shrewsbury man-o'-war was 
then in the Downs, directing him to send a gang 
ashore and press the first six good seamen they should 
meet with, taking care, however, since their Lordships 

^ State Papers Domestic^ Anne, xxxvi. No. 24 : Petition of the 
Mayor, Jurats and Commonalty of the Free Town and Borough of Deal. 


did not wish to be too hard upon the town, that the 
men so pressed were bachelors and not householders. 
Lieut. O'Brien was entrusted with this delicate 
punitive mission. He returned on board after a 
campaign of only a few hours' duration, triumphantly- 
bearing with him the stipulated hostages for Dover's 
future good behaviour — "six very good seamen, 
natives and inhabitants, and five of them bachelors."^ 
The sixth was of course a householder, a circumstance 
that made the town's punishment all the severer. 

Its effects were less salutary than the Admiralty 
had anticipated. True, both Dover and Deal there- 
after withdrew their opposition to the press so far as 
to admit the gang within their borders ; but they kept 
a watchful eye upon its doings, and every now and 
then the old spirit flamed out again at white heat, 
consuming the bonds of some poor devil who, like 
Alexander Hart, freeman of Dover, had been irregu- 
larly taken. On this occasion the mayor, backed by 
a posse of constables, himself broke open the press- 
room door. A similar incident, occurring a little later 
in the same year, so incensed Capt. Ball, who aptly 
enough was at the time in command of the Nemesis, 
that he roundly swore **to impress every seafaring 
man in Dover and make them repent of their 

Where the magistrate had it most in his power to 
make or mar the fugitive sailor's chances was in 
connection with the familiar fiction that the English- 
man's house is his castle. To hide a sailor was to steal 

^ Ad. I. 1696— Capt. Dent, 24 Aug. 1743. 

2 Ad. 7. 301— Law Officers' Opinions, 1784-92, No. 44 ; Ad. i. 1507 
— Capt. Ball, 15 April 1791. 


the king's chattel — penalty, £s forfeited to the parish ; 
and if you were guilty of such a theft, or were with 
good reason suspected of being guilty, you found 
yourself in much the same case as the ordinary thief 
or the receiver of stolen goods. A search warrant 
could be sworn out before a magistrate, and your 
house ransacked from cellar to garret. Without such 
warrant, however, it could not be lawfully entered. In 
the heat of pressing forcible entry was nevertheless 
not unusual, and many an impress officer found him- 
self involved in actions for trespass or damages in 
consequence of his own indiscretion or the excessive 
zeal of his gang. The defence set up by Lieut. Doyle, 
of Dublin, that the '* Panel of the Door was Broke by 
Accident," would not go down in a court of law, how- 
ever avidly it might be swallowed by the Board of 

More than this. The magistrate was by law 
empowered to seize all straggling seamen and lands- 
men and hand them over to the gangs for consign- 
ment to the fleet. The vagabond, as the unfortunate 
tramp of those days was commonly called, had thus a 
bad time of it. For him all roads led to Spithead. 
The same was true of persons who made themselves 
a public nuisance in other ways. By express magis- 
terial order many answering to that description 
followed Francis Juniper of Cuckfield, **a very 
drunken, troublesome fellow, without a coat to his 
back," who was sent away lest he should become 
"chargeable to the parish." The magistrate in this 
way conferred a double benefit upon his country. He 
defended it against itself whilst helping it to defend 
itself against the French. Still, the latter benefit was 


not always above suspicion. The "ignorant zeal of 
simple justices," we are told, often impelled them to 
hand over to the gangs men whom "any old woman 
could see with half an eye to be properer objects 
of pity and charity than fit to serve His Majesty." 

" Send your myrmidons," was a form of summons 
familiar to every gang officer. As its tone implies, 
its source was magisterial, and when the officer re- 
ceived it he hastened with his gang to the Petty 
Sessions, the Assizes or the prison, and there took 
over, as an unearned increment of His Majesty's 
fleet, the person of some misdemeanant willing to 
exchange bridewell for the briny, or the manacled 
body of some convicted felon who preferred to swing 
in a hammock at sea rather than on the gallows 

A strangely assorted crew it was, this overflow of 
the jails that clanked slowly seawards, marshalled by 
the gang. Reprieves and commutations, if by no 
means universal in a confirmed hanging age, were yet 
common enough to invest it with an appalling same- 
ness that was nevertheless an appalling variety. Able 
seamen sentenced for horse-stealing or rioting, town 
dwellers raided out of night-houses, impostors who 
simulated fits or played the maimed soldier, fishermen 
in the illicit brandy and tobacco line, gentlemen of 
the road, makers of " flash " notes and false coin, 
stealers of sheep, assaulters of women, pickpockets 
and murderers in one unmitigated throng went the 
way of the fleet and there sank their vices, their 
roguery, their crimes and their identity in the number 
of a mess. 

Boys were in that flock of jail-birds too — youths 


barely in their teens, guilty of such heinous offences 
as throwing stones at people who passed in boats upon 
the river, or of ** playing during divine service on 
Sunday " and remaining impenitent and obdurate 
when confronted with all the ''terrific apparatus of 
fetters, chains and dark cells" pertaining to a well- 
equipped city jail/ The turning over of such young 
reprobates to the gang was one of the pleasing duties 
of the magistrate. 

^ Ad. I. 1534, 1545 — Capt. Barker, i March 1805, 20 Aug. 1809, and 
numerous instances. 



When all avenues of escape were cut off and the 
sailor found himself face to face with the gang and 
imminent capture, he either surrendered his liberty 
at the word of command or staked it on the issue of 
a fight. 

His choice of the latter alternative was the pro- 
verbial turning of the worm, but of a worm that was 
no mean adversary. Fear of the gang, supposing 
him to entertain any, was thrown to the winds. Fear 
of the consequences — the clink, or maybe the gallows 
for a last land-fall — which had restrained him in less 
critical moments when he had both room to run and 
opportunity, sat lightly on him now. In red realism 
there flashed through his brain the example of some 
doughty sailor, the hero of many an anchor-watch 
and forecastle yarn, who had fought the gang to its 
last man and yet come off victor. The swift vision 
fired his blood and nerved his arm, and under its 
obsession he stood up to his would-be captors with 
all the dogged pluck for which he was famous when 
facing the enemy at sea. 

In contests of this description the weapon perhaps 
counted for as much as the man who wielded it, and 
as its nature depended largely upon circumstances 



and surroundings, the range of choice was generally 
wide enough to please the most elective taste. Press- 
ing consequently introduced the gangsman to some 
strange weapons. 

Trim, the Poole sailor whose capture is narrated 
in the foregoing chapter, defended himself with a 
red-hot poker. In what may be termed domestic 
as opposed to public pressing, the use of this homely 
utensil as an impromptu liberty-preserver was not at 
all uncommon. Hot or cold, it proved a formidable 
weapon in the hands of a determined man, more 
especially when, as was at that time very commonly 
the case, it belonged to the ponderous cobiron or 
knobbed variety. 

Another weapon of recognised utility, particularly 
in the vicinity of docks, careening-stations and ship- 
yards, was the humble tar-mop. Consisting of a 
wooden handle some five or six feet in length, though 
of no great diameter, terminating in a ball of spun- 
yarn forming the actual mop, this implement, when 
new, was comparatively harmless. No serious blow 
could then be dealt with it ; but once it had been 
used for " paying " a vessel's bottom and sides it 
underwent a change that rendered it truly formidable. 
The ball of ravellings forming the mop became then 
thoroughly charged with tar or pitch and dried in 
a rough mass scarcely less heavy than lead. In this 
condition it was capable of inflicting a terrible blow, 
and many were the tussels decided by it. A remark- 
able instance of its effective use occurred at Ipswich 
in 1703, when a gang from the Solebay, rowing up 
the Orwell from Harwich, attempted to press the 
men engaged in re-paying a collier. They were 


immediately *' struck down with Pitch-Mopps, to the 
great Peril of their Lives." ^ 

The weapon to which the sailor was most partial, 
however, was the familiar capstan-bar. In it, as in 
its fellow the handspike, he found a whole armament. 
Its availability, whether on shipboard or at the water- 
side, its rough-and-ready nature, and above all its 
heft and general capacity for dealing a knock-down 
blow without inflicting necessarily fatal injuries, 
adapted it exactly to the sailor's requirements, 
defensive or the reverse. It was with a capstan-bar 
that Paul Jones, when hard pressed by a gang on 
board his ship at Liverpool, was reputed to have 
stretched three of his assailants dead on deck. Every 
sailor had heard of that glorious achievement and 
applauded it, the killing perhaps grudgingly excepted. 

So, too, did he applaud the hardihood of William 
Bingham, that far-famed north-country sailor who, 
adopting pistols as his weapon, negligently stuck a 
brace of them in his belt and walked the streets of 
Newcastle in open defiance of the gangs, none of 
which durst lay a hand on him till the unlucky day 
when, in a moment of criminal carelessness that could 
never be forgiven, he left his weapons at home and 
was haled to the press-room fighting, all too late, 
like a fiend incarnate. 

Not to enlarge on the endless variety of chance 
weapons, there remained those good old-standers the 
musket, the cutlass and the knife, each of which, in 
the sailor's grasp, played its part in the rough-and- 
tumble of pressing, and played it well. A case in 
point, familiar to every seaman, was the last fight 

1 Ad. I. 1436— Capt. Aldred, 6 Jan. 1702-3. 


put up by that famous Plymouth sailor, Emanuel 
Herbert, another fatalist who, like Bingham, believed 
in having two strings to his bow. He accordingly 
provided himself with both fuzee and hanger, and 
with these comforting bed-fellows retired to rest in 
an upper chamber of the public-house where he lodged, 
easy in the knowledge that whatever happened the 
door of his crib commanded the stairs. From this 
stronghold the gang invited him to come dow^n. He 
returned the compliment by inviting them up, assur- 
ing them that he had a warm welcome in store for 
the first who should favour him with a visit. The 
ambiguity of the invitation appears to have been 
thrown away upon the gang, for "three of my 
people," says the officer who led them, "rushed up, 
and the gun missing fire, he immediately run one of 
them through the body with the hanger " — a mode of 
welcoming his visitors which resulted in Herbert's 
shifting his lodgings to Exeter jail, and in the 
wounded man's speedy death.^ 

Here was a serious contingency indeed ; but what- 
ever deterrent effect the fatal issue of this affair, as 
of many similar ones, may have had upon the sailor's 
use of lethal weapons when attacked by the gang, 
that effect was largely, if not altogether, neutralised 
by the upshot of the famous Broadfoot case, which, 
occurring some sixteen years later, gave the scales 
of justice a decided turn in the sailor's favour and 
robbed the killing of a gangsman of its only terror, 
the shadow of the gallows. The incident in question 
opened in Bristol river, with the boarding of a merchant- 
man by a tender's gang. As they came over the side 
1 Ad, I. 1473— Capt. Brown, 4 July 1727. 


Broadfoot met them, blunderbuss in hand. Being 
there to guard the ship, he bade them begone, and 
upon their disregarding the order, and closing in upon 
him with evident intent to take him, he clapped the 
blunderbuss, which was heavily charged with swan- 
shot, to his shoulder and let fly into the midst of them. 
One of their number, Calahan by name, fell mortally 
wounded, and Broadfoot was in due course indicted 
for wilful murder.^ How he was found not guilty on 
the ground that a warrant directed to the lieutenant 
gave the gang no power to take him, and that he 
was therefore justified in defending himself, was 
well known to every sailor in the kingdom. No 
jury thereafter ever found him guilty of a capital 
felony if by chance he killed a gangsman in self- 
defence. The worst he had to fear was a verdict 
of manslaughter — a circumstance that proved highly 
inspiriting to him in his frequent scraps with the 

There was another aspect of the case, however, 
that came home to the sailor rather more intimately 
than the risk of being called upon to " do time " 
under conditions scarcely worse than those he habitu- 
ally endured at sea. Suppose, instead of his killing 
the gangsman, the gangsman killed him ? He re- 
called a case he had heard much palaver about. An 
able seaman, a perfect Tom Bowling of a fellow, 
brought to at an alehouse in the Borough — the old 
''Bull's Head" it was — having a mind to lie snug 
for a while, 'tween voyages. However, one day, 
being three sheets in the wind or thereabouts, he 
risked a run and was made a prize of, worse luck, by 

^ iVestminster Journal^ 30 April 1743. 


a press-gang that engaged him. Their boat lay at 
Battle Bridge in the Narrow Passage, and while they 
were bearing down upon her, with the sailor-chap in 
tow, what should Jack do but out with his knife and 
slip it into one of the gangers. 'Twas nothing much, 
a waistcoat wound at most, but the ganger resented 
the liberty, and swearing that no man should tap his 
claret for ni'., he ups with his cudgel and fetches Jack 
a clip beside the head that lost him the number of 
his mess, for soon after he was discharged dead along 
of having his head broke.^ 

Risks of this sort raised grave issues for the 
sailor — issues to be well considered of in those serious 
moments that came to the most reckless on the wings 
of the wind or the lift of the waves at sea, what time 
drink and the gang were remote factors in the problem 
of life. But ashore! Ah! that was another matter. 
Life ashore was far too crowded, far too sweet for 
serious reflections. The absorbing business of pleasure 
left little room for thought, and the thoughts that 
came to the sailor later, when he had had his fling and 
was again afoot in search of a ship, decidedly favoured 
the killing of a gangsman, if need be, rather than the 
loss of his own life or of a berth. The prevalence of 
these sentiments rendered the taking of the sailor a 
dangerous business, particularly when he consorted 
in bands. 

In that part of the west country traversed by the 
great roads from Bristol to Liverpool, and having 
Stourbridge as its approximate centre, ambulatory 

^ Ad. I. i486— Lieut. Slyford, 24 Nov. 1755. "Discharged dead," 
abbreviated to " DD," the regulation entry in the muster books against 
the names of persons deceased. 


bands proved very formidable. The presence of the 
rendezvous at Stourbridge accounted for this. Sea- 
men travelled in strength because they feared it. 
Two gangs were stationed there under Capt. Beecher, 
and news of the approach of a large party of seamen 
from the south having one day been brought in, he 
at once made preparations for intercepting them. 
Lieut. Barnsley and his gang marched direct to Hoo- 
brook, a couple of miles south of Kidderminster, a 
point the seamen had perforce to pass. His instruc- 
tions were to wait there, picking up in the meantime 
such of the sailor party as lagged behind from foot- 
soreness or fatigue, till joined by Lieut. Birchall and 
the other gang, when the two were to unite forces 
and press the main body. Through unforeseen circum- 
stances, however, the plan miscarried. Birchall, who 
had taken a circuitous route, arrived late, whilst the 
band of sailors arrived early. They numbered, more- 
over, forty-six as against eleven gangsmen and two 
officers. Four to one was a temptation the sailors 
could not resist. They attacked the gangs with such 
ferocity that out of the thirteen only one man returned 
to the rendezvous with a whole skin. Luckily, there 
were no casualties on this occasion ; but a few days 
later, while two of Barnsley's gangsmen were out on 
duty some little distance from the town, they were 
suddenly attacked by a couple of sailors, presumably 
members of the same band, who left one of them 
dead in the road.^ 

Owing to its close proximity to the Thames, that 
remote suburb of eighteenth century London known 
as Stepney Fields was much frequented by armed 

^ Ad. I. 1501 — Capt. Beecher, 12 July and 4 Aug. 1781. 


bands of the above description, who successfully- 
resisted all attempts to take them. The master-at- 
arms of the Chatham man-o'-war, chancing once to 
pass that way, came in for exceedingly rough usage 
at their hands, and when next day a lieutenant from 
the same ship appeared upon the scene with a gang 
at his back and tried to press the ringleaders in that 
affair, they "swore by God he should not, and if he 
offered to lay hands on them, they would cut him 
down." With this threat they drew their cutlasses, 
slashed savagely at the lieutenant, and ** made off 
through the Mobb which had gathered round them." ^ 
A spot not many miles distant from Stepney Fields 
was the scene of a singular fray many years later. 
His Majesty's ship S^mrre / happGn^d at the time to 
be lying in Longreach, and her commander, Capt. 
Brawn, one day received intelligence that a number 
of sailors were to be met with in the town of 
Barking. He at once dispatched his ist and 2nd 
lieutenants with a contingent of twenty-five men 
and several petty officers, to rout them out and take 
them. They reached Barking about nine o'clock in 
the evening, the month being July, and were not 
long in securing several of the skulkers, who with 
many of the male inhabitants of the place were at 
that hour congregated in public-houses, unsuspicious 
of danger. The sudden appearance in their midst 
of so large an armed force, however, coupled with the 
outcry and confusion inseparable from the pressing of 
a number of men, alarmed the townsfolk, who poured 
into the streets, rescued the pressed men, and would 
have inflicted summary punishment upon the intruders 
1 Ad. I. 2579 — Capt. Townshend, 21 April 1743. 


had not the senior officer, seeing his party hopelessly 
outnumbered, tactfully drawn off his force. This he 
did in good order and without serious hurt ; but just 
as he and his men were congratulating themselves 
upon their escape, they were suddenly ambushed, at 
a point where their road ran between high banks, by 
a " large concourse of Irish haymakers, to the number 
of at least five hundred men, all armed with sabres^ 
and pitchforks," who with wild cries and all the 
Irishman's native love of a shindy fell upon the un- 
fortunate gangsmen and gave them almost severe 
beating." 2 

Attacks on the gang, made with deliberate intent 
to rescue pressed men from its custody, were by no 
means confined to Barking. The informer throve in 
the land, but notwithstanding his hostile activity the 
sailor everywhere had friends who possessed at least 
one cardinal virtue. They seldom hung back when 
he was in danger, or hesitated to strike a blow in his 

There came into Limehouse Hole, on a certain day 
in the summer of 1709, a vessel called the Martin 
galley. How many men were in her we do not 
learn ; but whatever their number, there was amongst 
them one man who had either a special dread of the 
press or some more than usually urgent occasion for 
wishing to avoid it. Watching his opportunity, he 
slipped into one of the galley's boats, sculled her 
rapidly to land, and there leapt out — ^just as a press- 
gang hove in sight ahead! It was a dramatic 
moment. The sailor, tacking at sight of the enemy, 

^ So in the original, but " sabres " is perhaps an error for " scythes." 
* Ad. I. 1529— Capt. Brawn, 3 July 1803. 


ran swiftly along the river-bank, but was almost 
immediately overtaken, knocked down, and thrown 
into the press-boat, which lay near by. *' This 
gather'd a Mob," says the narrator of the incident, 
'* who Pelted the Boat and Gang by throwing Stones 
and Dirt from the Shoar, and being Pursued also by 
the Galley's men, who brought Cutlasses in the Boat 
with them to rescue their Prest Man, the Gang 
was at last forc'd to betake themselves to a Corn- 
lighter, where they might stand upon their Defence. 
The Galley's men could not get aboard, but lay with 
their Boat along the side of the Lighter, where they 
endeavouring to force in, and the Gang to keep them 
out, the Boat of a sudden oversett and some of the 
Men therein were Drown'd. Three of the Press- 
Gane were forc'd likewise into the Water, whereof 
'tis said one is Drown'd and the other two in Irons in 
the New Prison. The remaining part of the Gang 
leapt into a Wherry, the Galley's men pursuing them, 
but, not gaining upon them, they gave over the 
Pursuit." The pressed man all this while was 
laughing in his sleeve. "He lay on the other side of 
the Lighter, in the Tender's boat, whence he made 
his escape."^ 

In their efforts to restore the freedom of the 
pressed man, the sailor's friends did not confine their 
attention exclusively to the gang. When they turned 
out in vindication of those rights which the sailor 
did not possess, they not infrequently found their 
diversion in wrecking the gang's headquarters or in 
making a determined, though generally futile, on- 
slaught upon the tender. Respectable people, who 
^ Ad. I. 1437 — Capt. Aston, lo Aug. 1709. 


had no particular reason to favour the sailor's cause, 
viewed these ebullitions of mingled rage and mischief 
with dismay, stigmatising those who so lightheartedly 
participated in them as the ** lower classes" and the 

Few towns in the kingdom boasted — or repro- 
bated, as the case might be — a more erratically 
festive mob than Leith. As far back as 1709 Bailie 
Cockburn had advised the inhabitants of that burgh to 
"oppose any impressor," and seizing the occasion of 
the " Impressure of an Apprentice Boy," had set them 
an example by arresting the pinnace of Her Majesty's 
ship Rye, together with her whole crew, thirteen in 
number, and keeping them in close confinement till 
the lad was given up.^ The worthy Bailie was in 
due time gathered unto his fathers, and with the 
growth of the century gangs came and went in endless 
succession, but neither the precept nor the example 
was ever forgotten in Leith. Much pressing was 
done there, but it was done almost entirely upon the 
water. To transfer the scene of action to the strand 
meant certain tumult, for there the whim of the mob 
was law. Now it pulled the gang-officer's house 
about his ears because he dared to press a ship- 
wright ; again, it stoned the gang viciously because 
they rescued some seamen from a wreck — and kept 
them. Between whiles it amused itself by cutting 
down the rendezvous flag-staff; and if nothing better 
offered, it split up into component parts, each of which 
became a greater terror than the whole. One night, 
when the watch had been set and all was quiet, a 
party of this description, only three in number, 

1 Ad. I. 2448— Capt. Shale, 4 Jan. 1708-9. 


approached the rendezvous and respectfully requested 
leave to drink a last dram with some newly pressed 
men who were then in the cage, their quondam 
shipmates. Suspecting no ulterior design, the 
guard incautiously admitted them, whereupon they 
dashed a quantity of spirits on the fire, set the 
place in a blaze, and carried off the pressed men amid 
the hullabaloo that followed.^ 

If Leith did this sort of thing well, Greenock, her 
commercial rival on the Clyde, did it very much 
better ; for where the Leith mob was but a sporadic 
thing, erupting from its slummy fastnesses only in 
response to rumour of chance amusement to be had 
or mischief to be done, Greenock held her mob 
always in hand, a perpetual menace to the gangsman 
did he dare to disregard the Clydeside ordinance 
in respect to pressing. That ordinance restricted 
pressing exclusively to the water ; but it went 
further, for it laid it down as an inviolable rule 
that members of certain trades should not be pressed 
at all. 

It was with the Trades that the ordinance 
originated. There was little or no Greenock 
apart from the Trades. The will of the Trades 
was supreme. The coopers, carpenters, riggers, 
caulkers and seamen of the town ruled the burgh. 
Assembled in public meeting, they resolved unani- 
mously '* to stand by and support each other" in the 
event of a press ; and having come to this decision 
they indited a trite letter to the magistrates, intimat- 
ing in unequivocal terms that "if they countenanced 

^ Ad. I. 1 5 16-9— Letters of Capt. Brenton, 1797-8; Lieut. Pierie, 
2 Feb. 1798. 


the press, they must abide by the consequences," for 
once the Trades took the matter in hand " they could 
not say where they would stop." With the worthy 
burgesses laying down the law in this fashion, it is 
little wonder that the gangs "seldom dared to press 
ashore," or that they should have been able to take 
"only two coopers in ten months." 

For the Trades were as good as their word. The 
moment a case of prohibited pressing became known 
they took action. Alexander Weir, member of the 
Shipwrights' Society, was taken whilst returning from 
his "lawful employ," and immediately his mates, to 
the number of between three and four hundred, 
downed tools and marched to the rendezvous, where 
they peremptorily demanded his release. Have him 
they would, and if the gang-officer did not see fit to 
comply with their demand, not only should he never 
press another man in Greenock, but they would seize 
one of the armed vessels in the river, lay her along- 
side the tender, where Weir was confined, and take 
him out of her by force. Brenton was regulating 
captain there at the time, and to pacify the mob he 
promised to release the man — and broke his word. 
Thereupon the people " became very riotous and 
proceeded to burn everything that came in their way. 
About twelve o'clock they hauled one of the boats 
belonging to the rendezvous upon the Square and 
put her into the fire, but by the timely assistance of 
the officers and gangs, supported by the magistrates 
and a body of the Fencibles, the boat was recovered, 
though much damaged, and several of the ringleaders 
taken up and sent to prison." The affair did not end 
without bloodshed. " Lieut. Harrison, in defending 


himself, was under the necessity of running one of 
the rioters through the ribs."^ 

Though Bailie Cockburn once ''arrested" the 
pinnace of a man-o'-war at Leith, the attempted 
burning of the Greenock press-boat is worthy of more 
than passing note as the only instance of that form of 
retaliation to be met with in the history of home 
pressing. In the American colonies, on the other 
hand, it was a common feature of demonstrations 
against the gang. Boston was specially notorious for 
that form of reprisal, and Governor Shirley, in one of 
his masterly dispatches, narrates at length, and with 
no little humour, how the mob on one occasion burnt 
with great ^clat what they believed to be the press- 
boat, only to discover, when it was reduced to ashes, 
that it belonged to one of their own ringleaders.^ 

The threat of the Greenock artificers to lay along- 
side the tender and take out their man by force of 
arms was one for which there existed abundant, if by 
no means encouraging precedent. Long before, as 
early, indeed, as 1742, the keelmen frequenting 
Sunderland had set them an example in that respect 
by endeavouring, some hundreds strong, to haul the 
tender ashore — an attempt coupled with threats so 
dire that the officer in command trembled in his 
shoes lest he and his men should all '' be made 
sacrifices of." ^ Nothing so dreadful happened, 
however, for the attempt, like that made at Shoreham 
a few years later, when there ''appear'd in Sight, 
from towards Brighthelmstone, about two or three 

^ Ad. I. 1508— Letters of Capt. Brenton, 1793. 

2 Ad. I. 3818— Shirley to the Admiralty, i Dec. 1747. 

^ Ad. I. 1439— Capt. Allen, 13 March 1741-2. 


Hundred Men arm'd with different Weapons, who 
came with an Intent to Attack the Dispatch sloop," 
failed ignominiously, the attackers being routed on 
both occasions by a timely use of swivel guns and 

Similar disaster overtook the organisers of the 
Tooley Street affair, of which one Taylor, lieutenant 
to Capt. William Boys of the Royal Sovereign, was 
the active cause. At the " Spread-Eagle " in Tooley 
Street he and his gang one evening pressed a pri- 
vateersman — an insult keenly resented by the master 
of the ship. He accordingly sent off to the tender, 
whither the pressed man had been conveyed for 
security's sake, two wherries filled with armed seamen 
of the most piratical type. The fierce fight that 
ensued had a dramatic finish. " Two Pistols we took 
from them," says the narrator of the incident, in his 
quaint old style, "and three Cutlasses, and Six Men ; 
but one of the Men took the Red Hott Poker out of 
the Fire, and our Men, having the Cutlasses, Cutt 
him and Kill'd him in Defence of themselves."^ 

In attacks of this nature the fact that the tender 
was afioat told heavily in her favour, for unless 
temporarily hung up upon a mud-bank by the fall of 
the tide, she could only be got at by means of boats. 
With the rendezvous ashore the case was altogether 
different. Here you had a building in a public street, 
flaunting its purpose provocatively in your very face, 
and having a rear to guard as well as a front. For 
these reasons attacks on the rendezvous were generally 
attended with a greater measure of success than 

1 Ad. I. 1482— Lieut. Barnsley, 25 March 1746. 

2 Ad. I. 1488— Lieut. Taylor, i April 1757. 


similar attempts directed against the tenders. The 
face of a pressed man had only to show itself at one 
of the stoutly barred windows, and immediately a 
crowd gathered. To the prisoner behind the bars 
this crowd was friendly, commiserating or chaffing 
him by turns ; but to the gangsmen responsible for 
his being there it was invariably and uncompromis- 
ingly hostile, so much so that it needed only a 
carelessly uttered threat, or a thoughtlessly lifted 
hand, to fan the smouldering fires of hatred into a 
blaze. When this occurred, as it often did, things 
happened. Paving-stones hurtled through the curse- 
laden air, the windows flew in fragments, the door, 
assailed by overwhelming numbers, crashed in, and 
despite the stoutest resistance the gang could offer 
the pressed man was hustled out and carried off in 

The year 1755 witnessed a remarkable attack of 
this description upon the rendezvous at Deal, where 
a band of twenty-seven armed men made a sudden 
descent u' on that obnoxious centre of activity and 
cut up the gang most grievously. As all wore masks 
and had their faces blackened, identification was out 
of the question. A reward of ;^200, offered for proof 
of complicity in the outrage, elicited no information, 
and as a matter of fact its perpetrators were never 

In Capt. McCleverty's time the gang at Water- 
ford was once very roughly handled whilst taking in 
a pressed man, and Mr. Mayor Alcock came hurry- 
ing down to learn what was amiss. He found the 
rendezvous beset by an angry and dangerous 
gathering. '* Sir," said he to the captain, ** have you 


no powder or shot in the house ? " McCleverty 
assured him that he had. "Then, sir," cried the 
mayor, raising his voice so that all might hear, *'do 
you make use of it, and I will support you." The 
crowd understood that argument and immediately 

Had the Admiralty reasoned in similar terms 
with those who beat its gangsmen, converted its 
rendezvous into match-wood and carried off its 
pressed men, it would have quickly made itself 
as heartily feared as it was already hated ; but in 
seeking to shore up an odious cause by pacific 
methods it laid its motives open to the gravest 
misconstruction. Prudence was construed into timid- 
ity, and with every abstention from lead the sailor's 
mobbish friends grew more daring and outrageous. 

One night in the winter of 1780, whilst Capt. 
Worth of the Liverpool rendezvous sat lamenting the 
temporary dearth of seamen, Lieut. Haygarth came 
rushing in with a rare piece of news. On the road 
from Lancaster, it was reported, there was a whole 
coach-load of sailors. The chance was too good to 
be lost, and instant steps were taken to intercept the 
travellers. The gangs turned out, fully armed, and 
took up their position at a strategic point, just 
outside the town, commanding the road by which the 
sailors had to pass. By and by along came the 
coach, the horses weary, the occupants nodding or 
asleep. In a trice they were surrounded. Some of 
the gangsmen sprang at the horses' heads, others 
threw themselves upon the drowsy passengers. 
Shouts, curses and the thud of blows broke the 

1 Ad. I. 1 500— Deposition of Lieut. M'Kellop, 1780. 


silence of the night. Then the coach rumbled on 
again, empty. Its late occupants, fifteen in number, 
sulkily followed on foot, surrounded by their captors, 
who, as soon as the town was reached, locked them 
into the press-room for the rest of the night, it being 
the captain's intention to put them on board the 
tender in the Mersey at break of day. 

In this, however, he was frustrated by a remark- 
able development in the situation. Unknown to him, 
the coach-load of seamen had been designed for the 
Stag privateer, a vessel just on the point of sailing. 
News of their capture reaching the ship soon after 
their arrival in the town, Spence, her ist lieutenant, 
at once roused out all his available men, armed them, 
to the number of eighty, with cutlass and pistol, and 
led them ashore. There all was quiet, favouring 
their design. The hour was still early, and the 
silent, swift march through the deserted streets 
attracted no attention and excited no alarm. At the 
rendezvous the opposition of the weary sentinels 
counted for little. It was quickly brushed aside, the 
strong-room door gave way beneath a few well- 
directed blows, and by the time Liverpool went to 
breakfast the Stag privateer was standing out to sea, 
her crew not only complete, but ably supplemented 
by eight additional occupants of the press-room who 
had never, so far as is known, travelled in that 
commodious vehicle, the Lancaster coach. ^ 

The neighbouring city of Chester in 1803 
matched this exploit by another of great audacity. 
Chester had long been noted for its hostility to the 
gang, and the fact that the local volunteer corps — 

^ Ad. 7. 300— Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 19. 


the Royal Chester Artillery — was composed mainly 
of ropemakers, riggers, shipwrights and sailmakers 
who had enlisted for the sole purpose of evading the 
press, did not tend to allay existing friction. Hence, 
when Capt. Birchall brought over a gang from 
Liverpool because he could not form one in Chester 
itself, and when he further signalised his arrival by 
pressing Daniel Jackson, a well-known volunteer, 
matters at once came to an ugly head. The day 
happened to be a field-day, and as Birchall crossed 
the market square to wait upon the magistrates at 
the City Hall, he was *' given to understand what 
might be expected in the evening," for one of the 
artillerymen, striking his piece, called out to his 
fellows : " Now for a running ball ! There he 
goes ! " with hissing, booing and execrations. At 
seven o'clock one of the gang rushed into the 
captains lodgings with disquieting news. The 
volunteers were attacking the rendezvous. He 
hurried out, but by the time he arrived on the 
scene the mischief was already done. The enraged 
volunteers, after first driving the gang into the City 
Hall, had torn down the rendezvous colours and 
staff, and broken open the city jail and rescued their 
comrade, whom they were then in the act of carrying 
shoulder-high through the streets, the centre of a 
howling mob that even the magistrates feared to 
face. By request Birchall and his gang returned to 
Liverpool, counting themselves lucky to have escaped 
the " running ball "they had been threatened with 
earlier in the day.^ 

Another town that gave the gang a hot reception 

* Aci. I. 1529 — Capt. Birchall, 29 Dec. 1803. 


was Whitby. As in the case of Chester the gang 
there was an importation, having been brought in 
from Tyneside by Lieuts. Atkinson and Oakes. As 
at Chester, too, a place of rendezvous had been 
procured with difficulty, for at first no landlord could 
be found courageous enough to let a house for so 
dangerous a purpose. At length, however, one 
Cooper was prevailed upon to take the risk, and the 
flag was hung out. This would seem to have been 
the only provocative act of which the gang was 
guilty. It sufficed. Anticipation did the rest; for just 
as in some individuals gratitude consists in a lively 
sense of favours to come, so the resentment of mobs 
sometimes avenges a wrong before it has been inflicted. 
On Saturday the 23rd of February 1793, at the 
hour of half-past seven in the evening, a mob of a 
thousand persons, of whom many were women, 
suddenly appeared before the rendezvous. The first 
intimation of what was about to happen came in the 
shape of a furious volley of brickbats and stones, 
which instantly demolished every window in the 
house, to the utter consternation of its inmates. 
Worse, however, was in store for them. An 
attempt to rush the place was temporarily frustrated 
by the determined opposition of the gang, who, 
fearing that all in the house would be murdered, 
succeeded in holding the mob at bay for an hour and 
a half ; but at nine o'clock, several of the gangsmen 
having been In the meantime struck down and 
incapacitated by stones, which were rained upon the 
devoted building without cessation, the door at length 
gave way before an onslaught with capstan-bars, and 
the mob swarmed in unchecked. A scene of in- 


describable confusion and fury ensued. Savagely 
assaulted and mercilessly beaten, the gangsmen and 
the unfortunate landlord were thrown into the street 
more dead than alive, every article of furniture on 
the premises was reduced to fragments, and when the 
mob at length drew off, hoarsely jubilant over the 
destruction it had wrought, nothing remained of His 
Majesty's rendezvous save bare walls and gaping 
windows. Even these were more than the townsfolk 
could endure the sight of. Next evening they 
reappeared upon the scene, intending to finish what 
they had begun by pulling the house down or burning 
it to ashes ; but the timely arrival of troops frus- 
trating their design, they regretfully dispersed.^ 

Out at sea the sailor, if he could not set the tune 
by running away from the gang, played up to it with 
great heartiness. To sink the press-boat was his 
first aim. With this end in view he held stolidly on 
his course, if under weigh, betraying his intention by 
no sign till the boat, manoeuvring to get alongside of 
him, was in the right position for him to strike. 
Then, all of a sudden, he showed his hand. Clapping 
his helm hard over, he dexterously ran the boat 
down, leaving the struggling gangsmen to make 
what shift they could for their lives. Many a knight 
of the hanger was sent to Davy Jones in this 
summary fashion, unloved in life and cursed in the 
article of death. 

The attempt to best the gang by a master-stroke 

of this description was not, it need hardly be said, 

attended with uniform success. A miss of an inch 

or two, and the boat was safe astern, pulling like 

1 Ad. I. 2739— Lieut. Atkinson, 26 Feb. and 27 June 1793. 


mad to recover lost ground. In these circumstances 
the sailor recalled how he had once seen a block fall 
from aloft and smash a shipmate's head, and from 
this he argued that if a suitable object such as a 
heavy round-shot, or, better still, the ship's grind- 
stone, were deftly dropped over the side at the 
psychological moment, it must either have a some- 
what similar effect upon the gangsmen below or sink 
the boat by knocking a hole in her bottom. The 
case of the John and Elizabeth of Sunderland, that 
redoubtable Holland pink whose people were ** re- 
solved sooner to dye than to be impressed," affords 
an admirable example of the successful application of 
this theory. 

As the John and Elizabeth was running into 
Sunderland harbour one afternoon in February 
1742, three press-boats, hidden under cover of the 
pier-head, suddenly darted out as she surged past 
that point and attempted to board her. They met 
with a remarkable repulse. For ten minutes, accord- 
ing to the official account of the affair, the air was 
filled with grindstones, four-pound shot, iron crows, 
handspikes, capstan-bars, boat-hooks, billets of wood 
and imprecations, and when it cleared there was not 
in any of the boats a man who did not bear upon his 
person some bloody trace of that terrible fusillade. 
They sheered off, but in the excitement of the 
moment and the mortification of defeat Midshipmen 
Clapp and Danton drew their pistols and fired into 
the jeering crew ranged along the vessel's gun whale, 
"not knowing," as they afterwards pleaded, *'that 
there was any balls in the pistols." Evidence to the 
contrary was quickly forthcoming. A man fell dead 


on the pink's deck, and before morning the two 
middies were safe under lock and key in that 
"dismal hole," Durham jail. It was a notable 
victory for the sailor and applied mechanics.^ 

The affair of the King William Indiaman, a ship 
whose people kept the united boats'-crews of two 
men-of-war at bay for nearly twenty-four hours, 
carried the sailor's resistance to the press an appreci- 
able step further and developed some surprising 
tactics. Between three and four o'clock in the after- 
noon of a day in September 1742, two ships came 
into the Downs in close order. They had been 
expected earlier in the day, and both the Shrewsbury 
frigate and the Shark sloop were on the lookout for 
them. A shot from the former brought the headmost 
to an anchor, but the second, the King William, 
hauled her wind and stood away close to the 
Goodwins, out of range of the frigate's guns. Here, 
the tide being spent and the wind veering ahead, she 
>vas obliged to anchor, and the warships' boats were 
at once manned and dispatched to press her men. 
Against this eventuality the latter appear to have 
been primed " with Dutch courage," as the saying 
went, the manner of which was to broach a cask 
of rum and drink your fill. On the approach of the 
press-boats pandemonium broke loose. The mad- 
dened crew, brandishing their cutlasses and shouting 
defiance, assailed the on-coming boats with every 
description of missile they could lay hands on, not 
excepting that most dangerous of all casual am- 
munition, broken bottles. The Shrewsbury's mate 
fell, seriously wounded, and finding themselves 

1 Ad. I. 1439— Capt. Allen, 13 March 1741-2, and enclosure. 


unable to face the terrible hail of missiles, the boats 
drew off. Night now came on, rendering further 
attempts temporarily impossible — a respite of which 
the Indiaman's crew availed themselves to confine 
the master and break open the arms-chest, which 
he had taken the precaution to nail down. With 
morning the boats returned to the attack. Three 
times they attempted to board, and as often were 
they repulsed by pistol and musketry fire. Upon 
this the Shark, acting under peremptory orders from 
the Shrewsbury, ran down to within half-gunshot of 
the Indiaman and fired a broadside into her, 
immediately afterwards repeating the dose on finding 
her still defiant. The ship then submitted and all 
her men were pressed save two. They had been 
killed by the Shark's gun-fire.^ 

With the appearance of the gang on the deck of 
his ship there was ushered in the last stage but one 
of the sailor's resistance to the press afloat. How, 
when this happened, all hands were mustered and 
the protected sheep separated from the unprotected 
goats, has been fully described in a previous chapter. 
These preliminaries at an end, '* Now, my lads," said 
the gang officer, addressing the pressable contingent 
in the terms of his instructions, " I must tell you that 
you are at liberty, if you so choose, to enter His 
Majesty's service as volunteers. If you come in in 
that way, you will each receive the bounty now being 
paid, together with two months' advance wages 
before you go to sea. But if you don't choose to enter 
volunteerly, then I must take you against your wills " 

^ Ad. I. 1829— Capt. Goddard, 22 Sept. and 16 Oct., and his 
Deposition, 19 Oct. 1742. 



It was a hard saying, and many an old shellback 
— ay ! and young one too — spat viciously when he 
heard it. Conceive the situation ! Here were these 
poor fellows returning from a voyage which perhaps 
had cut them off from home and kindred, from all 
the ordinary comforts and pleasures of life, for 
months or maybe years ; here were they, with the 
familiar cliffs and downs under their hungry eyes, 
suddenly confronted with an alternative of the cruellest 
description, a Hobsons choice that left them no 
option but to submit or fight. It was a heartbreak- 
ing predicament for men, and more especially for 
sailor-men, to be placed in, and if they sometimes 
rose to the occasion like men and did their best to 
heave the gang bodily into the sea, or to drive them 
out of the ship with such weapons as their hard situ- 
ation and the sailor's Providence threw in their way — 
if they did these things in the gang's despite, they must 
surely be judged as outraged husbands, fathers and 
lovers rather than as disloyal subjects of an exacting 
king. They would have made but sorry man-o'-war's- 
men had they entertained the gang in any other way. 

Opposed to the service cutlass, the sailor's emer- 
gency weapon was but a poor tool to stake his liberty 
upon, and even though the numerical odds chanced 
to be in his favour he often learnt, in the course of 
his pitched battles with the gang, that the edge 
of a hanger is sharper than the corresponding part of 
a handspike. Lucky for him if, with his shipmates, 
he could then retreat to close quarters below or 
between decks, there to make a final stand for his 
brief spell of liberty ashore. This was his last ditch. 
Beyond it lay only surrender or death. 


The death of the sailor at the hands of the 
gang introduces us to a phase of pressing technically 
known as the accidental, wherein the accidents were 
of three kinds — casual, unavoidable, and "dis- 

The casual accident was one that could be neither 
foreseen nor averted, as when Capt. Argles, return- 
ing to England on the breaking up of the Limerick 
rendezvous in 1814, was captured by an American 
privateer "well up the Bristol Channel," a place 
where no one ever dreamed of falling in with such 
an enemy/ 

To the unavoidable accident every impress officer 
and agent was liable in the execution of his duty. It 
could thus be foreseen in the abstract, though not 
in the instance. Hence it could not be avoided. 
Wounds given and received in the heat and turmoil 
of pressing came under this head, provided they did 
not prove fatal. 

The accident "disagreeable" was peculiar to 
pressing. It consisted in the killing of a man, by 
whatever means and in whatever manner, whilst en- 
deavouring to press him, and the immediate effect of 
the act, which w^as common enough, was to set up a 
remarkable contradiction in terms. The man killed 
was not the victim of the accident. The victim was 
the officer or gangsman who was responsible for 
striking him off the roll of His Majesty's pressable 
subjects, and who thus let himself in for the conse- 
quences, more or less disagreeable, which inevitably 

While it was naturally the ambition of every 

1 Ad. I. 1455— Capt. Argles, 17 Aug. 1814. 


officer engaged in pressing ** to do the business with- 
out any disagreeable accident ensuing," he preferred, 
did fate ordain it otherwise, that the accident should 
happen at sea rather than on land, since it was on 
land that the most disagreeable consequences accrued 
to the unfortunate victim. These embraced flight 
and prolonged expatriation, or, in the alternative, 
arrest, preliminary detention in one of His Majesty's 
prisons, and subsequent trial at the Assizes. What 
the ultimate punishment might be was a minor, 
though still ponderable consideration, since, where 
naval officers or agents were concerned, the law was 
singularly capricious.^ At sea, on the other hand, 
the conditions which on land rendered accidents of 
this nature so uniformly disagreeable, were almost 
entirely reversed. How and why this was so can be 
best explained by stating a case. 

The accident in point occurred in the year 1755, 
and is associated with the illustrious name of Rodney. 
The Seven Years War was at the time looming in 
the near future, and England's secret complicity in 
the causes of that tremendous struggle rendered 
necessary the placing of her Navy upon a footing 
adequate to the demands which it was foreseen would 
be very shortly made upon it. In common with a 
hundred other naval officers, Rodney, who was then 
in command of the Prince George guardship at Ports- 
mouth, had orders to proceed without loss of time to 
the raising of men. One of his lieutenants was ac- 
cordingly sent to London, that happy hunting-ground 

^ As in Lacie's case, 25 Elizabeth, where a mortal wound having 
been inflicted at sea, whereof the party died on land, the prisoner was 
acquitted because neither the Admiralty nor a jury could inquire of it. 


of the impress officer, while two others, with picked 
crews at their backs, were put in charge of tenders to 
intercept homeward-bounds. This was near the end 
of May. 

On the I St of June, in the early morning, one 
of these tenders — the Princess Augusta, Lieut. Sax 
commander — fell in, off Portland Bill, with the 
Britannia^ a Leghorn trader of considerable force. 
In response to a shot fired as an intimation that she 
was expected to lay-to and receive a gang on board, 
the master, hailing, desired permission to retain his 
crew intact till he should have passed that dangerous 
piece of navigation known as the Race. To this 
reasonable request Sax acceded and the ship held on 
her course, closely followed by the tender. By the 
time the Race was passed, however, the merchant- 
man's crew had come to a resolution. They should 
not be pressed by *'such a pimping vessel" as the 
Princess Augusta. Accordingly, they first deprived 
the master of the command, and then, when again 
hailed by the tender, ''swore they would lose their 
lives sooner than bring too." The Channel at this 
time swarmed with tenders, and to Sax's hint that 
they might just as well give in then and there as be 
pressed later on, they replied with defiant huzzas and 
the discharge of one of their maindeck guns. The 
tender was immediately laid alongside, but on the 
gang's attempting to board they encountered a resis- 
tance so fierce that Sax, thinking to bring the infuri- 
ated crew to their senses, ordered his people to fire 
upon them. Ralph Sturdy and John Debusk, armed 
with harpoons, and John Wilson, who had requisi- 
tioned the cook's spit as a weapon, fell dead before 


that volley. The rest, submitting without further 
ado, were at once confined below. 

Now, three questions of moment are raised by 
this accident: What became of the ship? what was 
d^e with the dead men ? and what punishment was 
meted out to the lieutenant and his gang ? 

The crew once secured under hatches, the safety 
of the ship became of course the first consideration. 
It was assured by a simple expedient. The gang 
remained on board and worked the vessel into Ports- 
mouth harbour, where, after her hands had been taken 
out — Rodney the receiver — '' men in lieu " were put on 
board, as explained in our chapter on pressing afloat, 
and with this make-shift crew she was navigated to 
her destination, in this instance the port of London. 

As persons killed at sea, the three sailors who lay 
dead on the ship s deck did not come within the juris- 
diction of the coroner. That official's cognisance of 
such matters extended only to high-water mark when 
the tide was at flood, or to low-water mark when it 
was at ebb. Beyond those limits, seawards, all acts 
of violence done in great ships, and resulting in may- 
hem or the death of a man, fell within the sole pur- 
view and jurisdiction of the Station Admiral, who on 
this occasion happened to be Sir Edward Hawke, 
commander of the White Squadron at Portsmouth. 
Now Sir Edward was not less keenly alive to the 
importance of keeping such cases hidden from the 
public eye than were the Lords Commissioners. 
Hence he immediately gave orders that the bodies 
of the dead men should be taken "without St. 
Helens" and there committed to the deep. Instead 
of going to feed the Navy, the three sailors thus went 


to feed the fishes, and another stain on the service 
was washed out with a commendable absence of pub- 
licity and fuss. 

There still remained the lieutenant and his gang 
to be dealt with and brought to what, by another 
singular perversion of terms, was called justice. On 
shore, notwithstanding the lenient view taken of such 
accidents, an indictment of manslaughter, if not of 
murder, would have assuredly followed the offence ; 
and though in the circumstances it is doubtful whether 
any jury would have found the culprits guilty of the 
capital crime, yet the alternative verdict, with its con- 
sequent imprisonment and disgrace, held out anything 
but a rosy prospect to the young ofificer who had still 
his second ''swab" to win. That was where the 
advantage of accidents at sea came in. On shore 
the judiciary, however kindly disposed to the naval 
service, were painfully disinterested. At sea the 
scales of justice were held, none too meticulously, by 
brother officers who had the service at heart. Under 
the judicious direction of Admiral Osborn, who in 
the meantime had succeeded Sir Edward Hawke in 
the Portsmouth command, Lieut. Sax and his gang 
were consequently called upon to face no ordeal more 
terrible than an " inquiry into their proceedings and 
behaviour." Needless to say, they were unanimously 
exonerated, the court holding that the discharge of 
their duty fully justified them in the discharge of their 
muskets.^ When such disagreeable accidents had to 

1 Ad. I. 5925— Minutes at a Court-Martial held on board H.M.S. 
Prince George at Portsmouth, 14 Nov. 1755. Precedent for the pro- 
cedure in this case is found in Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 
1733-56, No. 27. 


be investigated, the disagreeable business was done — 
to purloin an apt phrase of Coke's — ** without prying 
into them with eagles' eyes." 

But it is time to leave the trail of blood and turn 
to a more agreeable phase of pressing. 



The reasons assigned for the pressing of men who 
ought never to have made the acquaintance of the 
warrant or the hanger were often as far-fetched as 
they are amusing. "You have no right to press a 
person of my distinction ! " warmly protested an 
individual of the superior type when pounced upon 
by the gang. " Lor love yer ! that's the wery reason 
we're a-pressin' of your worship," replied the grinning 
minions of the service. "We've such a set of black- 
guards aboard the tender yonder, we wants a toff 
like you to learn 'em manners." 

The quixotic idea of inculcating manners by means 
of the press infected others besides the gangsman. 
In a Navy whose officers not only plumed themselves 
on representing the ne plus ultra of etiquette, but 
demanded that all who approached them should do 
so without sin either of omission or commission, the 
idea was universal. Pride of service and pride of 
self entered into its composition in about equal pro- 
portions ; hence the sailing-master who neglected to 
salute the flag, or who through ignorance, crass 
stupidity, or malice aforethought flew prohibited 
colours, was no more liable to be taught an ex- 
emplary lesson than the bum-boatman who sauced 



the officer of the watch when detected in the act of 
smuggling spirits or women into one of His Majesty's 

For all such offenders the autocracy of the quarter- 
deck, from the rigid commander down to the very 
young gentleman newly joined, kept a jealous lookout, 
and many are the instances of punishment, swift and 
implacable, following the offence. Insulted dignity 
could of course take it out of the disrespectful fore- 
mastman with the rattan, the cat or the irons ; but 
for the ill-mannered outsider, whether pertaining to 
sea or land, the recognised corrective was His 
Majesty's press. A solitary exception is found in 
the case of Henry Crabb of Chatham, a boatman 
who rejoiced in incurable lameness ; rejoiced because, 
although there were many cripples on board the 
Queen's ships in his day, his infirmity was such as 
to leave him at liberty to ply for hire '' when other 
men durst not for feare of being Imprest." He was 
an impudent, over-reaching knave, and Capt. Balchen, 
of the Adventure man-o'-war, whose wife had suffered 
much from the fellow's abusive tongue and extortion- 
ate propensities, finding himself unable to press him, 
brought him to the capstan and there gave him 
"eleven lashes with a Catt of Nine Tailes."^ 

A letter written in the early forties — a letter as 
breezy as the sea from which it was penned — gives 
us a striking picture of the old-time naval officer as 
a teacher of deportment. Cruising far down-Channel, 
Capt. Brett, of the Anglesea man-o'-war, there fell 
in with a ship whose character puzzled him sorely. 
He consequently gave chase, but the wind falling light 

^ Ad. I. 1466 — Capt. Balchen, 10 March 1703-4. 


and night coming on, he lost her. Early next morning, 
as luck would have it, he picked her up again, and 
having now a " pretty breeze," he succeeded in drawing 
within range of her about two o'clock in the after- 
noon, when he fired a shot to bring her to. The 
strange sail doubtless feared that she was about to 
lose her hands, for instead of obeying the summons 
she trained her stern-chasers on the Anglesea and 
for an hour and a half blazed away at her as fast 
as she could load. "They put a large marlinespike 
into one of their guns," the indignant captain tells 
us, " which struck the carriage of the chase gun upon 
our forecastle, dented it near two inches, then broke 
asunder and wounded one of the men in the leg, and 
had it come a yard higher, must infallibly have killed 
two or three. By all this behaviour I concluded she 
must be an English vessel taken by the Spaniards. 
However, when we came within a cable's length of 
him he brought to, so we run close under his stern 
in order to shoot a little berth to leeward of him, and 
at the same time bid them hoist their boats out. Our 
people, as is customary upon such occasions, were 
then all up upon the gunhill and in the shrouds, 
looking at him. Just as we came under his quarter 
he pointed a gun that was sticking out a little abaft 
his main-shrouds right at us, and put the match to it, 
but it happened very luckily that the gun blew. A 
fellow that was standing on the quarter-deck then 
took up a blunderbuss and presented it, which by its 
not going off must have missed fire. As it was almost 
impossible, they being stripp'd and bareheaded, besides 
having their faces besmeared with powder, for us to 
judge them by their looks, I concluded they must be 


a Parcell of Light-headed Frenchmen run mad, and 
thinking it by no means prudent to let them kill my 
men in such a ridiculous manner, I ordered the 
marines, who were standing upon the quarter-deck 
with their musquets shoulder'd, to fire upon them. 
As soon as they saw the musquets presented they fell 
flat upon the decks and by that means saved them- 
selves from being kill'd. Some of our people at the 
same time fired a 9-pounder right into his quarter, 
upon which they immediately submitted. I own I 
never was more surprised in all my life to find that 
she was an English vessel, tho' my surprise was 
lessened a good deal when I came to see the master 
and all his fighting men so drunk as to be scarce 
capable of giving a rational answer to any question 
that was asked them. I was very glad to find that 
none of them were hurt ; but I found out the man 
who presented the blunderbuss, and upon his behaving 
saucily when I taxed him with it, I took him out of 
the vessel''^ 

So abhorrent a condiment was " sauce " to the 
naval palate, whether of officer or impress agent, that 
its use invariably brought its own punishment with 
it. " You are no gentleman ! " said Gangsman Dibell 
to one Hartnell, a currier who accidentally jostled 
him whilst he was drinking in a Poole taproom. 
"No, nor you neither!" replied Hartnell. The 
retort cost him a most disagreeable experience. 
Dibell and his comrades collared him and dragged 

'^ Ad. I. 1479 — Capt. Brett, 17 April 1743. The captain's use of 
gender is philologically instructive. Not till later times, it seems, did 
ships lose the character of a " strong man armed " and take on, uni- 
formly, the attributes of the skittish female. 


him off to the rendezvous, where he was locked up 
in the black-hole till the next day.^ 

At Waterford Capt. Price went one better than 
this, for a man who was totally unfit for the service 
having one day shown him some trifling disrespect, 
the choleric old martinet promptly set the gang upon 
him and had him conveyed on board the tender, 
" where," says Lieut. Collingwood, writing a month 
later, **he has been eating the king's victuals ever 
since." ^ Punishment enough, surely ! 

One night at Londonderry, as Lieut. Watson was 
making his way down to the quay for the purpose of 
boarding the Hope tender, of which he was com- 
mander, he accidentally ran against a couple of 

"Hallo! my lads," cried he, ''who and what 
are you.^*" 

" I am what I am," replied one of them, insolently. 

The lieutenant, who had been dining, fired up 
at this and demanded to know if language such as 
that was proper to be addressed to a king's officer. 

'' As you please," said he of the insolent tongue. 
*' If you like it better, I'll say I'm a piece of a man." 

'' So I see by your want of manners," retorted the 
lieutenant. " Come along with me, my brave piece ! 
I know those who will make a whole man of you 
before they're done." 

With that he seized the fellow, meaning to take 
him to his boat, which lay near by, but the pressed 
man, watching his chance, tripped him up and made 

^ Ad. I. 580 — Inquiry into the Conduct of the Impress Officers at 
Poole, 13 Aug. 1804. 

2 Ad. I. 1 501— Lieut. Collingwood, i8 March 1781. 


off. Next day there was a sequel. The lieutenant 
** was taken possession of by the Civil Power " on 
a charge of assault.^ 

Another officer who met with base ingratitude 
from a pressed man whose manners he attempted 
to reform was Capt. Bethel of the Phoenix. At the 
Nore he was once grossly abused by the crew of a 
Customs-House boat, and in retaliation took one of 
their number and carried him to sea. Peremptory 
orders reaching him at one of the Scottish ports, 
however, he discharged the man and paid his passage 
south. He was immediately sued for false imprison- 
ment and cast in heavy damages.^ 

Capt. Brereton, of the Falmouth, was *'had" in 
similar fashion by the master of an East-Indiaman 
whom he pressed at Manilla because of his insolence, 
and who afterwards, by a successful suit at law, let 
him in for ;^400 damages and costs.^ 

This was turning the tables of etiquette on its 
professors with a vengeance. 

Such costly lessons in the art of politeness, how- 
ever, did not in the least abash the naval officer or 
deter him from the continued inculcation of manners. 
Young fellows idly roystering on the river could not 
be permitted to miscall with impunity the gorgeous 
admiral passing in his twelve-oared barge,^ nor irate 
shipmasters who flouted the impress' service of the 
Crown as a ** pitiful" thing and its officers as ''little 
scandalous creatures," be allowed to go scot-free.^ 

^ Ad.i 

''Ad. I 

^ Ad. I 
^ Ad. I 

1 531 — Lieut. Watson, 27 Oct. 1804. 

1493— Capt. Bethel, 29 Aug. 1762. 

1494 — Capt. Brereton, 18 Oct. 1765. 

577 — Admiral the Marquis of Carmarthen, 24 June 17 10, 

2379 — Capt. Robinson, 21 Feb. 1725-6. 


At whatever cost, the dignity of the service must be 

Nowhere did the use of invective attain such 
extraordinary perfection as amongst those who plied 
their vocations on the country's busy waterways. 
Here "sauce" was reduced to a science and vitu- 
peration to a fine art. Thames watermen and Tyne 
keelmen in particular acquired an astounding pro- 
ficiency in the choice and application of abusive 
epithets, but of the two the keelman carried off the 
palm. The wherryman, it is true, possessed a ripe 
vocabulary, but the fact that it embraced only a 
single dialect seriously handicapped him in his race 
with the keelman, who had no less than three to 
draw upon, all equally prolific. Between *'keelish," 
**coblish" and " sheelish," the respective dialects 
of the north-country keelman, pilot and trades- 
man, he had at his command a source of supply 
unrivalled in vituperative richness, abundance and 
variety. With these at his tongue's end none could 
touch, much less outdo him in power and scope of 
abusive description. He became in consequence of 
these superior advantages so " insupportably im- 
pudent " that the only known cure for his complaint 
was to follow the prescription of Capt. Atkins of 
the Panther, and ** take him as fast as you could 
ketch him " ; ^ but even this drastic method of curbing 
his tongue was robbed of much of its efficacy by the 
jealous care with which he was ''protected." 

Failure to amain, that is, to douse your topsail or 
dip your colours when you meet with a ship of war 
— the marine equivalent for raising one's hat — con- 
1 Ad, I. 1438— Capt. Atkins, 23 Dec. 1720. 


stituted a gross contempt of the king's service. The 
custom was very ancient, King John having instituted 
it in the second year of his reign. At that time, and 
indeed for long after, the salute was obligatory, its 
omission entailing heavy penalties ; ^ but with the 
advent of the century of pressing another means of 
inspiring respect for the flag, now exacted as a courtesy 
rather than a right, came into vogue. The offending 
vessel paid for its omission in men. 

If you were anything but a king's ship, and flew 
a flag that only king's ships were entitled to fly, you 
were guilty, in the eyes of every right-seeing naval 
officer, of another piece of ill manners so gross as 
to be deserving of the severest punishment the press 
was capable of inflicting upon you. You might fly 
the " flag and Jack white, with a red cross (commonly 
called St. George's cross) passing quite through the 
same"; likewise the ''ensign red, with the cross in 
a canton of white at the upper corner thereof, next 
to the staff" ; but if you presumed to display His 
Majesty's Jack, commonly called the Union Jack, or 
any other of the various flags of command flown by 
ships of war or vessels employed in the naval service, 
swift retribution overtook you. Similarly, the in- 
advertent hoisting of your colours " wrong end 
uppermost," or in any other manner deemed incon- 
sistent with the dignity of the service which permitted 
you to fly them, laid you open to reprisals of the most 

^ A copy of the original proclamation may be seen in Lansdowne 
MSS,, clxxi, f. 218, where it is also summarised in the following 
terms : ^^ Anno 2 regni Johannis regis: F rends not amaining at the 
j sumons but resisting the King his lieutenant^ the L. Admirall or 
his lieutenant^ to lose the ship and goods, 62 theire bodies to be 


summary nature. Before you realised the helnousness 
of your offence, a gang boarded you and your best 
man or men were gone beyond recall. The joy of 
waterside weddings — occasions prolific in the display 
of wrong colours — was often turned into sorrow in 
this way. 

Inability to do the things you professed to do 
involved grave risk of making intimate acquaintance 
with the gang. If, for example, you were a skipper 
and navigated your vessel more like a 'prentice than 
a master hand, some one belonging to you was bound, 
in waters swarming with ships of war, to pay the 
piper sooner or later. " A few days ago," writes 
Capt. Archer of the Isis, "a ship called the Jane, 
Stewart master, ran on board of us in a most lubberly 
manner — for which, as is customary on such occasions, 
I took four of his people." ^ 

Ability to handle a musical instrument sometimes 
proved as fatal to one's liberty as inability to handle 
a ship. Queen Anne was directly responsible for this. 
Almost immediately after her accession she signed 
a warrant authorising the pressing of "drummers, fife 
and haut boys for sea and land."^ Though the 
authorisation was only temporary, the practice thus 
set up continued long after its origin had been 
relegated to the scrap-heap of memory, and not only 
continued, but was interpreted in a sense much broader 
than its royal originator ever intended it should be. 
This tendency to take an ell in lieu of the stipulated 
inch was illustrated as early as 1705, when Lieut. 
Thomson, belonging to the Lichfield, chancing to 

^ Ad. I. 1448— Capt. Archer, 17 May 1795. 
* Home Office Military Entry Books, clxviii, f. 406. 


meet one Richard Bullard, fiddler, "persuaded him to 
go as far as Woolwich with him, to play a tune or 
two to him and some friends who had a mind to dance, 
saying he would pay him for it " — which he did, when 
tired of dancing, by handing him over to the press- 

In 1 78 1, again, a ''stout lad of 1 7 " was pressed 
at Waterford because, as a piper, he was considered 
likely to be ** useful in amusing the new-raised men " ; ^ 
and as late as 1807 a gang at Portsmouth, acting 
under orders from Capt. Sir Robert Bromley, took 
one Madden, a blind man, because of his "qualification 
of playing on the Irish bagpipes." His affliction 
saved him. He was discharged, and the amount of 
his pay and victualling was deducted from Sir Robert's 
wages as a caution to him to be more careful in 

Perhaps the oddest reasons ever adduced in justi- 
fication of specific acts of pressing were those put 
forward in the cases of James Daily, a Gosport ferry- 
man who was pressed on account of his " great 
inactivity," and of John Conyear, exempt passenger 
on the packet-boat plying between Dartmouth and 
Poole, subjected to the same process because, as the 
officer responsible ingenuously put it when called to 
book for the act, if Conyear had not been on board, 
** another would, who might have been a proper person 
to serve His Majesty."'^ 

An ironical interest attaches to the pressing of 

1 Ad. I. 1467— Capt. Byron, 13 July 1705. 

2 Ad. I. 1 501 — Lieut. Collingwood, 18 March 1781. 

3 Ad. I. 1544— Capt. Sir Robert Bromley, 2 Dec. 1808. 

* Ad. I. 145 1— Capt. Argles, 4 May 1807 ; Ad. i. 2485— Capt. Scott, 
13 March 1780. 


John Hagin, a youth of nineteen who cherished an 
ambition to go a-whaling. Tramping the riverside at 
Hull one day in search of a ship, he accidentally met 
one of the lieutenants employed in the local impress 
service, and mistaking him for the master of a Green- 
land ship, stepped up to him and asked him for a berth. 
** Berth?" said the obliging officer. "Come this 
way ; " and he conducted the unsuspecting youth to the 

Before you took a voyage for the benefit of your 
health in those days it was always advisable to satisfy 
yourself as to the nature of the cargo the vessel carried 
or intended to carry, otherwise you were liable to be 
let in for a longer voyage than health demanded. 
Richard Gooding of Bawdsey, in the county of Suffolk, 
a twenty-one-year-old yeoman who knew nothing of 
the iniquities practised in ships, in an evil hour acted 
on the advice of his apothecary and ran across to 
Holland for the sake of his health, which the infirmities 
of youth appear to have undermined. All went well 
until, on the return trip, just before Bawdsey Ferry 
hove in sight, down swooped a revenue cutter's boat 
with an urgent request that the master should open up 
his hatches and disclose what his hold contained. 
He demurred, alleging that it held nothing of interest 
to revenue men ; but on their going below to see for 
themselves they discovered an appreciable quantity of 
gin. Thereupon the master wickedly declared Gooding 
to be the culprit, and he was pressed on suspicion of 
attempting to run a cargo of spirits.^ 

Into the operations of the gang this element of 

1 Ad. I. 1455— Capt. Ackton, 23 March 18 14. 

^ Ad. I. 1530— Capt. Broughton, 20 April 1803, and enclosure. 


suspicion entered very largely, especially in the press- 
ing of supposed sailors. To carry about on your 
person any of the well-known marks of the seafaring 
man was to invite certain disaster. When pressed, like 
so many others, because he was " in appearance very 
much like a sailor," John Teede protested vehemently 
that he had never been to sea in his life, and that all who 
said he had were unmitigated liars. ''Strip him," 
said the officer, who had a short way with such cases. 
In a twinkling Teede's shirt was over his head and 
the sailor stood revealed. Devices emblematic of 
love and the sea covered both arms from shoulder 
to wrist. '* You and I will lovers die, eh ? " said the 
officer, with a twinkle, as he spelt out one of the 
amatory inscriptions. *'Just so, John! I'll see to 
that. Next man ! " ^ 

Bow-legged men ran the gravest of risks in this 
respect, and the goose of many a tailor was effectually 
cooked because of the damning fact, which no pro- 
testations of innocence of the sea could mitigate, that 
long confinement to the board had warped his legs 
into a fatal resemblance to those of a typical Jack-tar. 
Harwich once had a mayor who, after vowing that he 
would "never be guilty of saying there was no law 
for pressing sailors," as a convincing proof that he 
knew what was what, and was willing to provide it 
to the best of his ability, straightway sent out and 
pressed — a tailor ! ^ 

The itinerant Jewish peddler who hawked his 
wares about the country suffered grievously on this 

^ Ad. I. 1522— Description of a Person calling himself John Teede, 
28 Dec. 1799. 

* Ad I. 1436— Capt. Allen, 26 March 1706. 


account. However indisputably Hebraic his name, 
his accent and his nose might be, those evidences of 
nationality were Anglicised, so to speak, by the fact 
that his legs were the legs of a sailor, and the bandy 
appendages so characteristic of his race sooner or 
later brought the gang down upon him in full cry and 
landed him in the fleet. 

In the year 1780 the fishing town of Cromer was 
thrown into a state of acute excitement by the 
behaviour of a casual stranger — a great, bearded man 
of foreign aspect who, taking a lodging in the place, 
resorted daily to the beach, where he walked the sands 
''at low water mark," now writing with great assiduity 
in a book, again gesticulating wildly to the sea and 
the cliffs, whence the suspicious townsfolk, then all 
unused to "visitors" and their eccentricities, watched 
his antics in wonder and consternation. The principal 
inhabitants of the place, alarmed by his vagaries, con- 
stituted themselves a committee of safety, and with the 
parson at their head went down to interview him ; and 
when, in response to their none too polite inquiries, 
he flatly refused to give any account of himself, they 
by common consent voted him a spy and a public 
menace, telling each other that he was undoubtedly 
engaged in drawing plans of the coast in order to 
facilitate the landing of some enemy ; for did not 
the legend run : — 

" He who would Old England win, 
Must at Weybourn Hope begin?" 

and was not the " Hoop," as it was called locally, 
only a few miles to the northward ? No time was to 
be lost. Post-haste they dispatched a messenger to 


Lieut. Brace at Yarmouth, begging him, if he would 
save his country from imminent danger, to lose not a 
moment in sending his gang to seize the suspect and 
nip his fell design in the bud. With this alarming 
request Brace promptly complied, and the stranger 
was dragged away to Yarmouth. Arraigned before 
the mayor, he with difficulty succeeded in convincing 
that functionary that he was nothing more dangerous 
than a stray agriculturist whom the Empress Catherine 
had sent over from Russia to study the English 
method of growing — turnips ! ^ 

The unhandsome treatment meted out to the 
inoffensive Russian is of a piece with the whole aspect 
of pressing by instigation, of which it is at once a 
specimen and a phase. The incentive here was 
suspicion ; but in the fertile field of instigation 
motives flourished in forms as varied as the weak- 
nesses of human nature. 

Thomas Onions, respectable burgess of Bridg- 
north, engaged in working a trow from that place 
to Bristol, fell under suspicion owing to the mysterious 
disappearance of a portion of the cargo, which con- 
sisted of china. The rest of the crew being meta- 
phorically as well as literally in the same boat, the 
consignee's agent, on the trow's arrival at Bristol, 
hinted at a more than alliterative connection between 
china and chests, which he was proceeding to search 
when Onions objected, very righdy urging that he 
had no warrant. '* Is it a warrant you're wanting ? " 
demanded the baffled agent. '' Very well, we'll see if 
we cannot find one." With that he stepped ashore and 
hurried to the rendezvous, where he knew the officers, 

^ State Papers^ Russia^ cv. — Lieut. Brace, i8 Aug. 1780. 


and within the hour the gang added Onions to the 
impress stock-pot.^ 

Much the same motive led to the pressing of 
Charles M 'Donald, a north-country youth of education 
and property. His mother wished him to enter the 
army, but his guardians, piqued by her insistence, 
" had him kidnapped on board the impress tender at 
Shields, under pretence of sending him on a visit." ^ 

An '* independent fortune of fourteen hundred 
pounds," bequeathed to him by his " Aunt Elizabeth," 
was instrumental in launching John Stillwell of 
Clerkenwell upon a similar career. His step-mother 
and uncle desired to retain possession of the money, 
of which they were trustees ; so they suborned the 
gang and the young man disappeared.^ 

A more legitimate pastime of the gang was the 
pressing of incorrigible sons. George Clark of 
Birmingham and William Barnicle of Margate, the 
one a notorious thief, the other the despair of his 
family because of his drunken habits, were two out of 
many shipped abroad by this cheap but effectual 
means, the instigator of the gang being in each case 
the lad's own father.* The distracting problem, 
" What to do with our sons ? " was in this way 
amazingly simplified. 

In thus utilising the gang as a means of retaliating 
upon those who incurred their displeasure, both naval 
officers and private individuals, had they been arraigned 

^ Ad. I. 1542 — Memorial of the Inhabitants and Burgesses of 
Bridgnorth, 12 March 1808. 

^ Ad. I. 1537 — Capt. Bland, 29 Nov. 1806, and enclosure. 

^ Ad. I. 1539 — Capt. Burton, 25 April 1806, and enclosure. 

^ Ad. I. 1537— Jeremiah Clark, 30 July 1806; Ad. i. 1547— Lieut. 
Dawe, 4 Sept. 1809. 


for the offence, could have pleaded in justification of 
their conduct the example of no less exalted a body 
than the Admiralty itself. The case of the bachelor 
seamen of Dover, pressed because of an official animus 
against that town, was as notorious as their Lordships' 
futile attempt to teach the Brighton fishermen respect 
for their betters, or their later orders to Capt. Culver- 
house, of the Liverpool rendezvous, instructing him 
** to take all opportunities of impressing seafaring men 
belonging to the Isle of Man," as a punishment for 
the "extreme ill-conduct of the people of that Island 
to His Majesty's Officers on the Impress Service." ^ 
The Admiralty method of paying out anyone against 
whom you cherished a grudge possessed advantages 
which strongly commended it to the splenetic and the 
vindictive. For suppose you lay in wait for your 
enemy and beat or otherwise maltreated him : the 
chances were that he would either punish you himself 
or invoke the law to do it for him ; while if you 
removed him by means of the garrot, the knife or the 
poisoned glass, no matter how discreetly the deed was 
done the hangman was pretty sure to get you sooner 
or later. But the gang — it was as safe as an epidemic ! 
The fact was not lost upon the community. People 
in almost every station of life appreciated it at its 
true worth, and, encouraged by the example of the 
Admiralty, availed themselves of the gang as the 
handiest, speediest and safest of mediums for wiping 
out old scores. 

On shipboard, where life was more cramped and 
men consequently came into sharper contact than 
on shore, resentments were struck from daily inter- 

^ Ad. 3. 148— Admiralty Minutes, 11 Oct. 1803. 


course like sparks from steel. Like sparks some 
died, impotent to harm their object ; but others, 
cherished in bitterness of spirit through many a lonely 
watch, flashed into malicious action with that hoped- 
for opportunity, the coming of the gang. John Gray, 
carpenter of a merchant ship, in a moment of anger 
threatened to cut the skipper down with an axe. 
This happened under a West-Indian sun. Months 
afterwards, as the ship swung lazily into Bristol river 
and the gang came aboard, the skipper found his 
opportunity. Beckoning to the impress officer, he 
pointed to John Gray and said : *' Take that man ! " ^ 
Gray never again lifted an axe on board a merchant 

Certain amenities which once passed between the 
master and the mate of the Lady Shore serve to 
throw an even broader light upon the origin of quarrels 
at sea and the methods of settling them then in vogue. 
The Lady Shore was on the passage home from 
Quebec when the master one day gave certain sailing 
directions which the mate, who was a sober, careful 
seaman, thought fit to disregard on the ground that 
the safety of the ship would be endangered if he 
followed them. The master, an irascible, drunken 
brute, at this flew into a passion and sought to ingraft 
his ideas of seamanship upon the mate through the 
medium of a handspike, with which he caught him a 
savage blow *'just above the eye, cutting him about 
three inches in length." It was in mid-ocean that 
this lesson in navigation was administered. By the 
time Scilly shoved its nose above the horizon the 
skipper's "down" on the mate had reached an 
^ Ad, I. 1542— Capt. Barker, 22 June 1808, and enclosure. 


acute stage. His resentment of the latter's being the 
better seaman had now deepened into hatred, and 
to this, as the voyage neared its end, was added 
growing fear of prosecution. At this juncture a 
man-o'-war hove in sight and signalled an inspection 
of hands. " Get your chest on deck, Mr. Mate," 
cried the exultant skipper. "You are too much 
master here. It is time for us to part." Taken out 
of the ship as a pressed man, the mate was ultimately 
discharged by order of the Admiralty ; but the 
skipper had his revenge.^ 

A riot that occurred at King's Lynn in the year 
'55 affords a striking instance of the retaliatory use 
of the gang on shore. In the course of the disturb- 
ance mud and stones were thrown at the magistrates, 
who had come out to do what they could to quell it. 
Angered by so gross an indignity, they supplied the 
gang with information that led to the pressing of 
some sixty persons concerned in the tumult, but as 
these consisted mainly of ''vagrants, gipsies, parish 
charges, maimed, halt and idiots," the magisterial 
resentment caused greater rejoicings at Lynn than it 
did at Spithead, where the sweepings of the borough 
were eventually deposited.^ 

There is a decided smack of the modern about the 
use the gang was put to by the journeymen coopers 
of Bristol. Considering themselves underpaid, they 
threatened to go on strike unless the masters raised 
their wages. I n this they were not entirely unanimous, 
however. One of their number stood out, refusing to 
join the combine ; whereupon the rest summoned the 

^ Ad. I. 583— Matthew Gill to Admiral Moorsom, 15 Jan. 1813. 
* Ad. I. 920— Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, 8 June 1755. 


gang and had the ''blackleg" pressed for his con- 

In pressing William Taylor of Broadstairs the 
gang nipped in the bud as tender a romance as ever 
flourished in the shelter of the Kentish cliffs, which 
is saying not a little. Taylor was only a poor fisher- 
man, and when he dared to make love to the pretty 
daughter of the Ramsgate Harbour-Master, that 
exalted individual, who entertained for the girl social 
ambitions in which fishermen's shacks had no place, 
resented his advances as insufferable impertinence. 
A word to Lieut. Leary, his friend at the local 
rendezvous, did the rest. Taylor disappeared, and 
thoucrh he was afterwards discharo^ed from His 
Majesty's ship Utrecht on the score of his holding a 
Sea-Fencible's ticket, the remedy had worked its cure 
and the Harbour-Master was thenceforth free to 
marry his daughter where he would.^ 

So natural is the transition from love to hate that 
no apology is needed for introducing here the story 
of Sam Burrows, the ex-beadle of Chester who fell 
a victim to the harsher in much the same manner as 
Taylor did to the gentler passion. Burrows' evil 
genius was one Rev. Lucius Carey, an Irish clergy- 
man — whether Anglican or Roman we know not, nor 
does it matter — who had contracted the unclerical 
habit of carrying pistols and too much liquor. In this 
condition he was found late one night knocking in a 
very violent manner at the door of the *' Pied Bull," 
and swearing that, while none should keep him out, 
any who refused to assist him in breaking in should 

^ Ad. I. 1542 — Capt. Barker, 20 Aug. 1808, and enclosure. 
2 jid j_ 1450— Capt. Austen, 23 Sept. 1803. 


be shot down forthwith. Burrows, the ex-beadle, 
happened to be passing at the moment. He seized 
the drunken cleric and with the assistance of James 
Howell, one of the city watchmen, forcibly removed 
him to the watch-house, whence he was next day 
taken before the mayor and bound over to appear 
at the Sessions. Now it happened that certain 
members of the local press-gang were Carey's boon 
companions, so no sooner did he leave the presence 
of the mayor than he looked them up. That same 
evening Burrows was missing. Carey had found him 
a "hard bed," otherwise a berth on board a man- 

In the columns of the Westminster J ou7'nal, under 
date of loth May 1743, we read of a sailor who, 
dying at Ringsend, was brought to Irishtown church- 
yard, near Dublin, for burial. "When they laid 
him on the ground," the narrative continues, "the 
coffin was observed to stir, on which he was taken 
up, and by giving him some nourishment he came to 
himself, and is likely to do well." Whether this 
sailor was ever pressed, either before or after his 
abortive decease, we are not informed ; but there is 
on record at least one well-authenticated instance of 
that calamity overtaking a person who had passed 
the bourne whence none is supposed to return. 

In the year 1723 a young lad whose name has 
not been preserved, but who was at the time ap- 
prentice to a master sailmaker in London, set out 
from that city to visit his people, living at Sandwich. 
He appears to have travelled afoot, for, getting a 
"lift" on the road, he was carried into Deal, where 

1 Ad. I. 1532— Capt Birchall, 17 July 1804, and enclosures. 


he arrived late at night, and having no money was 
glad to share a bed with a seafaring man, the boat- 
swain of an Indiaman then in the Downs. From this 
circumstance sprang the events which here follow. 

Along in the small hours of the night the lad 
awoke, and finding the room stuffy and day on the 
point of breaking, he rose and dressed, purposing to 
see the town in the cool of the morning. The catch 
of the door, however, refused to yield under his hand, 
and while he was endeavouring to undo it the noise 
he made awakened the boatswain, who told him that 
if he looked in his breeches pocket he would find a 
knife there with which he could lift the latch. Acting 
on this hint, the lad succeeded in opening the door, 
and thereupon went downstairs in accordance with 
his original intention. When he returned some half- 
hour later, as he did for the purpose of restoring the 
knife, which he had thoughtlessly slipped into his 
pocket, the bed was empty and the boatswain gone. 
Of this he thought nothing. The boatswain had 
talked, he remembered, of going off to his ship at 
an early hour, in order, as he had said, to call the 
hands for the washing down of the decks. The lad 
accordingly left the house and went his way to Sand- 
wich, where, as already stated, his people lived. 

Meantime the old inn at Deal, and indeed the 
whole town, was thrown into a state of violent com- 
motion by a most shocking discovery. Going about 
their morning duties at the inn, the maids had come 
to the bed in which the boatswain and the apprentice 
had slept, and to their horror found it saturated with 
blood. Drops of blood, together with marks of 
blood-stained hands and feet, were further discovered 


on the floor and the door of the chamber, down the 
stairs, and along the passage leading to the street, 
whence they could be distinctly traced to the water- 
side, not so very far away. Imagination, working 
upon these ghastly survivals of the hours of darkness, 
quickly reconstructed the crime which it was evident 
had been committed. The boatswain was known to 
have had money on him ; but the youth, it was re- 
called, had begged his bed. It was therefore plain 
to the meanest understanding that the youth had 
murdered the boatswain for his money and thrown 
the body into the sea. 

At once that terrible precursor of judgment to 
come, the hue and cry was raised, and that night the 
footsore apprentice lay in Sandwich jail, a more than 
suspected felon, for his speedy capture had supplied 
what was taken to be conclusive evidence of his gfuilt. 
In his pocket they discovered the boatswain's knife, 
and both it and the lad's clothing were stained with 
blood. Asked whose blood it was, and how it came 
there, he made no answer. Asked was it the boat- 
swain's knife, he answered, **Yes, it was," and 
therewith held his peace. In face of such evidence, 
and such an admission, he stood prejudged. His 
trial at the Assizes was a mere formality. The jury 
quickly found him guilty, and sentence of death was 
passed upon him. 

The day of execution came. Up to this point 
Fate had set her face steadfastly against our apprentice 
lad ; but now, in the very hour and article of death, 
she suddenly relented and smiled upon him. The 
dislocating "drop" was in those days unknown. 
When you were hanged, you were hanged from a 


cart, which was suddenly whisked from under you, 
leaving you dangling in mid-air like a kind of death- 
fruit nearly, but not quite, ready to fall. Much de- 
pended on the executioner, and that grim functionary 
was in this case a raw hand, unused to his work, who 
bungled the job. The knot was ill-adjusted, the rope 
too long, the convict tall and lank. This last circum- 
stance was no fault of the executioner's, but it helped. 
When they turned him off, the lad's feet swept the 
ground, and his friends, gathering round him like 
guardian angels, bore him up. Cut down at the end 
of a tense half-hour, he was hurried away to a 
surgeon's and there copiously bled. And being young 
and virile, he revived. 

Trudging to Portsmouth some little time after, 
with the intention of for ever leaving a country to 
which he was legally dead, he fell in with one of the 
numerous press-gangs frequenting that road, and was 
sent on board a man-o'-war. There, in course of time, 
he rose to be master's mate, and in that capacity, 
whilst on the West-India station, was transferred to 
another ship. On this ship he met the surprise of 
his life — if life can be said to hold further surprises 
for one who has died and lived again. As he stepped 
on deck the first person he met was his old bed- 
fellow, the boatswain. 

The explanation of the amazing series of events 
which led up to this amazing meeting is very simple. 
On the evening of that fateful night at Deal the boat- 
swain, who had been ailing, was let blood. In his 
sleep the bandage slipped and the wound reopened. 
Discovering his condition when awakened by the 
apprentice, he rose and left the house, intending to 


have the wound re-dressed by the barber-surgeon who 
had inflicted it, with more effect than discretion, some 
hours earlier. At the very door of the inn, however, 
he ran into the arms of a press-gang, by whom he 
was instantly seized and hurried on board ship.^ 

* Watts, Remarkable Events in the History of Man^ 1825. 



The medieval writer who declared women to be 
"capable of disturbing the air and exciting tempests " 
was not indulging a mere quip at the expense of that 
limited storm area, his own domestic circle. He ex- 
pressed what in his day, and indeed for long after, 
was a cardinal article of belief — that if you were so 
ill-advised as to take a woman to sea, she would surely 
upset the weather and play the mischief with the ship. 

To this ungallant superstition none subscribed 
more heartily than the sailor, though always, be it 
understood, with a mental reservation. Unlike many 
landsmen who held a similar belief, he limited the 
malign influence of the sex strictly to the high-seas, 
where, for that reason, he vastly preferred woman's 
room to her company ; but once he was safe in port, 
woman in his opinion ceased to be dangerous, and he 
then vastly preferred her company to her room. 

For her companionship he had neither far to seek 
nor long to wait. It was a case of 

"Deal, Dover and Harwich, 
The devil gave his daughter in marriage." 

All naval seaports were full of women, and to pre- 
vent the supply from running short thoughtful parish 
officials — church-wardens and other well-meaning but 


sadly misguided people — added constantly to the 
number by consigning to such doubtful reformatories 
the undesirable females of their respective petty 
jurisdictions. The practice of admitting women on 
board the ships of the fleet, too — a practice as old 
as the Navy itself — though always forbidden, was 
universally connived at and tacitly sanctioned. 
Before the anchor of the returning man-of-war was 
let go a flotilla of boats surrouuded her, deeply laden 
with pitiful creatures ready to sell themselves for a 
song and the chance of robbing their sailor lovers. 
No sooner did the boats lay alongside than the last 
vestige of Jack's superstitious dread of the malevolent 
sex went by the board, and discipline with it. Like 
monkeys the sailors swarmed into the boats, where 
each selected a mate, redeemed her from the grasping 
boatman's hands with money or blows according to 
the state of his finances or temper, and so brought 
his prize, save the mark ! in triumph to the gangway. 
It was a point of honour, not to say of policy, with 
these poor creatures to supply their respective 
"husbands," as they termed them, with a drop of 
good-cheer; so at the gangway they were searched 
for concealed liquor. This was the only formality 
observed on such occasions, and as it was enforced 
in the most perfunctory manner imaginable, there was 
always plenty of drink going. Decency there was 
none. The couples passed below and the hell of the 
besotted broke loose between decks, where the orgies 
indulged in would have beggared the pen of a Balzac.^ 
During the earlier decades of the century these 
conditions, monstrous though they were, passed 
^ Statement of Certain Immoral Practices, 1822. 


Anne Mills. 
Who served on board the Maidstone in 1740. 

cc c « 


almost unchallenged, but as time wore on and their 
pernicious effects upon the morale of the fleet became 
more and more appalling, the service produced men 
who contended strenuously, and in the end success- 
fully, with a custom that, to say the least of it, did 
violence to every notion of decency and clean living. 
In 1746 the ship's company of the Sunderland cowi- 
plained bitterly because not even their wives were 
''suffer'd to come aboard to see them."^ It was a 
sign of the times. By the year '78 the practice had 
been fined down to a point where, if a wherry with 
a woman in it were seen hovering in a suspicious 
manner about a ship of war, the boatman was im- 
mediately pressed and the woman turned on shore.^ 
Another twenty years, and the example of such men 
as Jervis, Nelson and Collingwood laid the evil for 
good and all. The seamen of the fleet themselves 
pronounced its requiescat when, drawing up certain 
** Rules and Orders " for their own guidance during 
the mutiny of '97, they ordained that " no woman 
shall be permitted to go on shore from any ship, but 
as many come in as pleases."^ 

An unforeseen consequence of thus suppressing 
the sailor's impromptu liaisons was an alarming in- 
crease in the number of desertions. On shore love 
laughs at locksmiths ; on shipboard it derided the 
boatswain's mate. To run and get caught meant at 
the worst " only a whipping bout," and, the sailor's 
hide being as tough as his heart was tender, he ran 

1 Ad. I. 1482— Capt. Brett, 22 Feb. 1745-6. 

2 Ad. I. 1498— Capt. Boteler, 18 April 1778. 

^ Ad. I. 5125 — A Detail of the Proceedings on Board the Queen 
Charlotte in the Year 1797. 


and took the consequences with all a sailor's stoicism. 
In this respect he was perhaps not singular. The 
woman in the case so often counts for more than the 
punishment she brings. 

Few of those who deserted their ships for amatory 
reasons had the luck — viewing the escapade from the 
sailor's standpoint — that attended the schoolmaster 
of the Princess Louisa. Going ashore at Plymouth to 
fetch his chest from the London wagon, he succumbed 
to the blandishments of an itinerant fiddler's wife, 
whom he chanced to meet in the husband's temporary 
absence, and was in consequence ** no more heard of." ^ 

Had it always been a case of the travelling 
woman, the sailor's flight in response to the voice of 
the charmer would seldom have landed him in the 
cells or exposed his back to the caress of the ship's 
cat. Where he was handicapped in his love flights 
was this. The haunt or home of his seducer was 
generally known to one or other of his officers, and 
when this was not the case there were often other 
women who gladly gave him away. "Captain 
Barrington, Sir," writes " Nancy of Deptford " to the 
commander of a man-o'-war in the Thames, ** there is 
a Desarter of yours at the upper water Gate. Lives 
at the sine of the mantion house. He is an Irishman, 
gose by the name of Youe (Hugh) MackMullins, and is 
trying to Ruing a Wido and three Children, for he has 
Insenuated into the Old Woman's faver so far that she 
must Sartingly come to poverty, and you by Sarching 
the Cook's will find what I have related to be true and 
much oblidge the hole parrish of St. Pickles Deptford."^ 

1 Ad. I. 1478— Capt. Boys, 5 April 1742. 

^ Ad. I. 1495 — Capt. Barrington, 22 Oct. 1771, enclosure. 


A favourite resort of the amatory tar was that 
extra-parochial spot known as the Liberty of the 
Fleet, where the nuptial knot could be tied without 
the irksome formalities of banns or licence. The fact 
strongly commended it to the sailor and brought him 
to the precinct in great numbers. 

'' I remember once on a time," says Keith, the 
notorious Fleet parson, '' I was at a public-house at 
Ratcliffe, which was then full of Sailors and their 
Girls. There was fiddling, piping, jigging and eat- 
ing. At length one of the Tars starts up and says : 
* Damn ye, Jack ! I'll be married just now ; I will 
have my partner,' The joke took, and in less than 
two hours Ten Couples set out for the Flete. They 
returned in Coaches, five Women in each Coach ; 
the Tars, some running before, some riding on the 
Coach Box, and others behind. The Cavalcade 
being over, the Couples went up into an upper Room, 
where they concluded the evening with great Jollity. 
The landlord said it was a common thing, when a 
Fleet comes in, to have 2 or 3 Hundred Marriages 
in a week's time among the Sailors."^ 

In the ** Press-Gang, or Love in Low Life," a 
play produced at Covent Garden Theatre in 1755, 
Trueblue is pressed, not in, but out of the arms of 
his tearful Nancy. The situation is distressingly 
typical. The sailor's happiness was the gangsman's 
opportunity, however Nancy might suffer in conse- 

For the average gangsman was as void of senti- 
ment as an Admiralty warrant, pressing you with 

^ Keith, Observations on the Act for Preventing Clandestine 
Marriages, 1753. 


equal avidity and absence of feeling whether he 
caught you returning from a festival or a funeral. 
To this callosity of nature it was due that William 
Castle, a foreign denizen of Bristol who had the 
hardihood to incur the marital tie there, was called 
upon, as related elsewhere, to serve at sea in the 
very heyday of his honeymoon. Similarly, if four 
seamen belonging to the Dundee Greenland whaler 
had not stolen ashore one night at Shields " to see 
some women," they would probably have gone down 
to their graves, seawards or landwards, under the 
pleasing illusion that the ganger was a man of like 
indulgent passions with themselves. The negation 
of love, as exemplified in that unsentimental in- 
dividual, was thus brought home to many a seafaring 
man, long debarred from the society of the gentler 
sex, with startling abruptness and force. 

The pitiful case of the ** Maidens Pressed," whose 
names are enrolled in the pages of Camden Hotten,^ 
is in no way connected with pressing for naval pur- 
poses. Those unfortunates were not victims of the 
gangsman's notorious hardness of heart, but of their 
own misdeeds. Like the female disciples of the 
'* diving hand " stated by LutterelP to have been 
"sent away to follow the army," they were one and 
all criminals of the Moll Flanders type who ''left 
their country for their country's good " under com- 
pulsion that differed widely, both in form and pur- 
pose, from that described in these pages. 

To assert, however, that women were never 

^ Hotten, List of Persons of Quality, etc., who Went from England 
to the American Plantations. 

^ Lutterell, Historical Relation of State Affairs, 12 March 1706. 


pressed, in the enigmatic sense of their being taken by 
the gang for the manning of the fleet, would be to do 
violence to the truth as we find it in naval and other 
records. As a matter of fact, the direct contrary was 
the case, and there were in the kingdom few gangs 
of which, at one time or another in their career, it 
could not be said, as Southey said of the gang at 
Bristol, that '' they pressed a woman." 

The incident alluded to will be familiar to all who 
know the poet as distinguished from the Bard of 
Avon. It is found in the second " English Eclogue," 
under the caption of the " Grandmother's Tale," and 
has to do with the escapade, long famous in the more 
humorous annals of Southey 's native city, of blear- 
eyed Moll, a collier's wife, a great, ugly creature 
whose voice was as gruff as a mastiff's bark, and who 
wore habitually a man's hat and coat, so that at a 
few yards' distance you were at a loss to know 
whether she was man or woman. 

"There was a merry story told of her, 
How when the press-gang came to take her husband 
As they were both in bed, she heard them coming, 
Drest John up in her nightcap, and herself 
Put on his clothes and went before the captain." 

A case of pressing on all-fours with this is said 
to have once occurred at Portsmouth. A number of 
sailors, alarmed by the rumoured approach of a gang 
while they were a-fairing, took it into their heads, so 
the story goes, to effect a partial exchange of clothing 
with their sweethearts, in the hope that the hasty 
shifting of garments would deceive the gang and so 
protect them from the press. It did. In their parti- 
garb make-up the women looked more sailorly than 


the sailors themselves. The gang consequently 
pressed them, and there were hilarious scenes at the 
rendezvous when the fair recruits were " regulated " 
and the ludicrous mistake brought to light. 

It was not only on shore, however, or on special 
occasions such as this, that women played the sailor. 
A naval commander, accounting to the Admiralty for 
his shortness of complement, attributes it mainly to 
sickness, partly to desertion, and incidentally to the 
discharge of one of the ship's company, "who was 
discovered to be a woman." ^ 

His experience is capped by that of the master of 
the Edmund and Mary^ a vessel engaged in carrying 
coals to Ipswich. Shrewdly suspecting one of his 
apprentices, a clever, active lad, to be other than 
what he seemed, he taxed him with the deception. 
Taken unawares, the lad burst into womanly tears 
and confessed himself to be the runaway daughter of 
a north-country widow. Disgrace had driven her to 

These instances are far from being unique, for 
both in the navy and the mercantile marine the 
masquerading of women in male attire was a not 
uncommon occurrence. The incentives to the adop- 
tion of a mode of life so foreign to all the gentler 
traditions of the sex were various, though not inade- 
quate to so surprising a change. Amongst them un- 
happiness at home, blighted virtue, the secret love of 
a sailor and an abnormal craving for adventure and 
the romantic life were perhaps the most common and 
the most powerful. The question of clothing pre- 

1 Ad. I. 1503— Capt. Burney, 15 Feb. 1782. 
* Naval Chronicle^ vol. xxx. 1813, p. 184. 


sented little difficulty. Sailors' slops could be pro- 
cured almost anywhere, and no questions asked. The 
effectual concealment of sex was not so easy, and 
when we consider the necessarily intimate relations 
subsisting between the members of a ship's crew, the 
narrowness of their environment, the danger of un- 
conscious betrayal and the risks of accidental dis- 
covery, the wonder is that any woman, however 
masculine in appearance or skilled in the arts of 
deception, could ever have played so unnatural a 
part for any length of time without detection. The 
secret of her success perhaps lay mainly in two assist- 
ing circumstances. In theory there were no women 
at sea, and despite his occasional vices the sailor was 
of all men the most unsophisticated and simple- 

Conspicuous among women who threw the dust of 
successful deception in the eyes of masters and ship- 
mates is Mary Anne Talbot. Taking to the sea as a 
girl in order to " follow the fortunes " of a young 
naval officer for whom she had conceived a violent 
but unrequited affection, she was known afloat as John 
Taylor. In stature tall, angular and singularly lacking 
in the physical graces so characteristic of the average 
woman, she passed for years as a true shellback, 
her sex unsuspected and unquestioned. Accident at 
length revealed her secret. Wounded in an engage- 
ment, she was admitted to hospital in consequence of 
a shattered knee, and under the operating knife the 
identity of John Taylor merged into that of Mary 
Anne Talbot.^ 

It is said, perhaps none too kindly or truthfully, 

^ Times^ 4 Nov. 1799. 


that the lady doctor of the present day no sooner sets 
up in practice than she incontinently marries the 
medical man around the corner, and in many instances 
the sailor-girl of former days brought her career on 
the ocean wave to an equally romantic conclusion. 
However skilled in the art of navigation she might 
become, she experienced a constitutional difficulty in 
steering clear of matrimony. Maybe she steered 
for it. 

A romance of this description that occasioned no 
little stir in its day is associated with a name at one 
time famous in the West- India trade. Through 
bankruptcy the name suffered eclipse, and the un- 
fortunate possessor of it retired to a remote neighbour- 
hood, taking with him his two daughters, his sole 
remaining family. There he presently sank under his 
misfortunes. Left alone in the world, with scarce a 
penny-piece to call their own, the daughters resolved 
on a daring departure from the conventional paths of 

Making their way to Portsmouth, they there 
dressed themselves as sailors and in that capacity 
entered on board a man-o'-war bound for the West 
Indies. At the first reduction of Cura^oa, in 1798, 
as in subsequent naval engagements, both acquitted 
themselves like men. No suspicion of the part they 
were playing, and playing with such success, appears 
to have been aroused till a year or two later, when one 
of them, in a brush with the enemy, was wounded 
in the side. The surgeon's report terminated her 
career as a seaman. 

Meanwhile the other sister contracted tropical 
fever, and whilst lying ill was visited by one of the 

Mary Anne Talbot, 



junior officers of the ship. Believing herself to be 
dying, she told him her secret, doubtless with a view 
to averting its discovery after death. He confessed that 
the news was no surprise to him. In fact, not only 
had he suspected her sex, he had so far persuaded him- 
self of the truth of his suspicions as to fall in love with 
one of his own crew. The tonic effect of such avowals 
is well known. The fever-stricken patient recovered, 
and on the return of the ship to home waters the 
officer in question made his late foremast hand his 

Of all the veracious yarns that are told of girl- 
sailors, there is perhaps none more remarkable than 
the story of Rebecca Anne Johnson, the girl-sailor of 
Whitby. One night a hundred and some odd years 
ago a Mrs. Lesley, who kept the " Bull" inn in Half- 
moon Alley, Bishopsgate Street, found at her door 
a handsome sailor-lad begging for food. He had 
eaten nothing for four and twenty hours, he declared, 
and when plied with supper and questions by the 
kind-hearted but inquisitive old lady, he explained that 
he was an apprentice to the sea, and had run from his 
ship at Woolwich because of the mate's unduly basting 
him with a rope's-end. *'What! you a 'prentice?" 
cried the landlady ; and turning his face to the light, 
she subjected him to a scrutiny that read him through 
and through. 

Next day, at his own request, he was taken before 
the Lord Mayor, to whom he told his story. That he 
was a girl he freely admitted, and he accounted for 
his appearing in sailor rig by asserting that a brutal 
father had apprenticed him to the sea in his thirteenth 

^ Naval Chronicle^ vol. viii. 1802, p. 60. 


year. More astounding still, the same unnatural 
parent had actually bound her, the sailor-girl's, mother, 
apprentice to the sea, and in that capacity she was not 
only pressed into the navy, but killed at the battle 
of Copenhagen, up to which time, though she had 
followed the sea for many years and borne this child 
in the meantime, her sex had never once been called 
in question.^ 

While woman was thus invading man's province 
at sea, that universal feeder of the Navy, the press- 
gang, made little or no appeal to her as a sphere of 
activity. On Portland Island, it is true, Lieut. 
M'Key, who commanded both the Sea-Fencibles and 
the press-gang there, rated his daughter as a midship- 
man ; ^ but with this exception no woman is known to 
have added the hanger to her adornment. The three 
merry maids of Taunton, who as gangsmen put the 
Denny Bowl quarrymen to rout, were of course 

But if the ganger's life was not for woman, there 
was ample compensation for its loss in the wider 
activities the gang opened up for her. The gangs- 
man was nothing if not practical. He took the poetic 
dictum that '* men must work and women must weep " 
— a conception in his opinion too sentimentally one- 
sided to be tolerated as one of the eternal verities of 
human existence — and improved upon it. By virtue 
of the rough-and-ready authority vested in him he 
abolished the distinction between toil and tears, 
decreeing instead that women should suffer both. 

^ Naval Chronicle^ vol. xx. 1808, p. 293. 

* Ad. I. 581— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 15 April 
1 806. 


*' M'Gugan's wife?" growled Capt. Brenton, gang- 
master at Greenock, when the corporation of that 
town ventured to point out to him that M'Gugan's 
wife and children must inevitably come to want unless 
their bread-winner, recently pressed, were forthwith 
restored to them, — '' M'Gugans wife is as able to get 
her bread as any woman in the town I " ^ 

For two hundred and fifty years, off and on — ever 
since, in fact, the press-masters of bluff King Hal 
denuded the Dorset coast of fishermen and drove the 
starving women of that region to sea in quest of 
food^ — the press-gang had been laboriously teaching 
English housewives this very lesson, the simple 
economic truth that if they wanted bread for them- 
selves and their families while their husbands were 
fagging for their country at sea, they must turn to 
and work for it. Yet in face of this fact here was 
M'Gugan's wife trying to shirk the common lot. It 
was monstrous ! 

M'Gugan's wife ought really to have known better. 
The simplest calculation, had she cared to make it, 
would have shown her the utter futility of hoping to 
live on the munificent wage which a grateful country 
allowed to M'Gugan, less certain deductions for 
M'Gugan's slops and contingent sick-benefit, in return 
for his aid in protecting it from its enemies ; and 
almost any parish official could have told her, what 
she ought in reason to have known already, that she 
was no longer merely M'Gugan's wife, dependent 
upon his exertions for the bread she ate, but a 

^ Ad. I. 151 1 — Capt. Brenton, 15 Jan. 1795. 

2 State Papers Domestic^ Henry viii. : Lord Russell to the Privy 
Council, 22 Aug. 1545. 


Daughter of the State and own sister to thousands 
of women to whom the gang in its passage brought 
toil and poverty, tears and shame — not, mark you, 
the shame of labour, if there be such a thing, but the 
bedraggled, gin-sodden shame of the street, or, in the 
scarce less dreadful alternative, the shame of the 
goodwife of the ballad who lamented her husband's 
absence because, worse luck, sundry of her bairns 
"were gotten quhan he was awa'." 

Lamentable as this state of things undoubtedly 
was, it was nevertheless one of the inevitables of 
pressing. You could not take forcibly one hundred 
husbands and fathers out of a community of five 
hundred souls, and pay that hundred husbands and 
fathers the barest pittance instead of a living wage, 
without condemning one hundred wives and mothers 
to hard labour on behalf of the three hundred children 
who hungered. Out of this hundred wives and 
mothers a certain percentage, again, lacked the ability 
to work, while a certain other percentage lacked the 
will. These recruited the ranks of the outcast, or 
with their families burdened the parish.^ The direct 
social and economic outcome of this mode of manning 
the Navy, coupled with the payment of a starvation 
wage, was thus threefold. It reversed the natural 
sex-incidence of labour ; it fostered vice ; it bred 
paupers. The first was a calamity personal to those 
who suffered it. The other two were national in their 
calamitous effects. 

In that great diurnal of the eighteenth-century 

^ Ad. I. 5125 — Memorial of the Churchwardens and Overseers of 
the Poor of the Parish of Portsmouth, 3 Dec 1793, ^"^ numerous 


navy, the Captains' Letters and Admirals' Dispatches, 
no volume can be opened without striking the broad 
trail of destitution, misery and heart-break, to mention 
no worse consequences, left by the gang. At nearly 
every turn of the page, indeed, we come upon recitals 
or petitions recalling vividly the exclamation in- 
voluntarily let fall by Pepys the tender-hearted when, 
standing over against the Tower late one summer's 
night, he watched by moonlight the pressed men sent 
away : '* Lord! how some poor women did cry." 

A hundred years later and their heritors in sorrow 
are crying still. Now it is a bed-ridden mother 
bewailing her only son, "the principal prop and stay 
of her old age " ; again a wife, left destitute '* with 
three hopeful babes, and pregnant." And here, bring- 
ing up the rear of the sad procession — lending to it, 
moreover, a touch of humour in itself not far removed 
from tears — comes Lachlan M 'Quarry. The gang 
have him, and amid the Stirling hills, where he was 
late an indweller, a motley gathering of kinsfolk 
mourn his loss — "me, his wife, two Small helpless 
Children, an Aged Mother who is Blind, an Aged 
Man who is lame and unfit for work, his father in 
Law, and a sister Insane, with his Mother in Law who 
is Infirm." 1 The fact is attested by the minister and 
elders of the parish, being otherwise unbelievable ; and 
Lachlan is doubtless proportionately grieved to find 
himself at sea. Men whose wives "divorced" them 
through the medium of the gang — a not uncommon 
practice — experienced a similar grief. 

Besides the regular employment it so generously 

^ Ad. I. 1454 — The Humble Petition of Jullions Thomson, Spouse to 
Lachlan M 'Quarry, 2 May 18 13, 


provided for wives bereft of their lawful support, the 
press-gang found for the women of the land many an 
odd job that bore no direct relation to the earning of 
their bread. When the mob demolished the Whitby 
rendezvous in '93, it was the industrious fishwives ot 
the town who collected the stones used as ammunition 
on that occasion ; and when, again, Lieut. M'Kenzie 
unwisely impressed an able seaman in the house of 
Joseph Hook, inn-keeper at Pill, it was none other 
than " Mrs. Hook, her daughter and female servant" 
who fell upon him and tore his uniform in shreds, thus 
facilitating the pressed man's escape "through a back 

The good people of Sunderland at one time 
indulged themselves in the use of a peculiar catch- 
phrase. Whenever any feat of more than ordinary 
daring came under their observation, they spoke of it 
as " a case of Dryden's sister." The saying originated 
in this way. The Sunderland gang pressed the mate 
of a vessel, one Michael Dryden, and confined him 
in the tender's hold. One night Dryden's sister, 
having in vain bribed the lieutenant in command to 
let him go, at the risk of her life smuggled some 
carpenter's tools on board under the very muzzles of 
the sentinel's muskets, and with these her brother and 
fifteen other men cut their way to freedom.^ 

A tender lying in King Road, at the entrance to 
Bristol River, was the scene of another episode of 
the '' Dryden's sister " type. Going ashore one morn- 
ing, the lieutenant in command fell from the bank and 
broke his sword. It was an ill omen, for in his 

1 Ad. I. 1534 — Lieut. M'Kenzie, 20 Oct. 1805. 

2 ^^ I 2740 — Lieut. Atkinson, 24 June and 10 July 1798. 


absence the hard fate of the twenty pressed men who 
lay in the tender's hold, "all handcuft to each other," 
made an irresistible appeal to two women, pressed 
men's wives, who had been with singular lack of 
caution admitted on board. Whilst the younger and 
prettier of the two cajoled the sentinel from his post, 
the elder and uglier secured an axe and a hatchet and 
passed them unobserved through the scuttle to the 
prisoners below, who on their part made such good 
use of them that when at length the lieutenant 
returned he found the cage empty and the birds 
flown. The shackles strewing the press-room bore 
eloquent testimony to the manner of their flight. The 
irons had been hacked asunder, some of them with as 
many as "six or seven Cutts."^ 

Never, surely, did the gang provide an odder job 
for any woman than the one it threw in the way of 
Richard Parker's wife. The story of his part in the 
historic mutiny at the Nore is common knowledge. 
Her's, being less familiar, will bear retelling. But 
first certain incidents in the life of the man himself, 
some of them hitherto unknown, call for brief 

Born at Exeter in or about the year 1764, it is not 
till some nineteen years later, or, to be precise, the 5th 
of May 1783, that Richard Parker makes his debut 
in naval records. On that date he appears on board 
the Mediator tender at Plymouth, in the capacity of 
a pressed man.^ 

The tender carried him to London, where in due 

* Ad. I. 1490— Capt. Brown, 12 May 1759. 

2 Ad. Ships' Musters, i. 9307— Muster Book of H.M. Tender the 


course he was delivered up to the regulating officers, 
and by them turned over to the Ganges, Captain the 
Honourable James Lutterell. This was prior to the 
30th of June 1783, the date of his official "appearance" 
on board that ship. On the Ganges he served as a 
midshipman — a noteworthy fact ^ — till the 4th of 
September following, when he was discharged to the 
Bull-Dog sloop by order of Admiral Montagu.^ 

His transfer from the ^92^//-/^^^ banished him from 
the quarter-deck and sowed within him the seeds of 
that discontent which fourteen years later made of 
him, as he himself expressed it, ** a scape-goat for the 
sins of many."^ He was now, for what reason we do 
not learn, rated as an ordinary seaman, and in that 
capacity he served till the 15th of June 1784, when he 
was discharged sick to Haslar Hospital.* 

At this point we lose track of him for a matter of 

1 Though one of rare occurrence, Parker's case was not altogether 
unique ; for now and then a pressed man by some lucky chance " got 
his foot on the ladder," as Nelson put it, and succeeded in bettering 
himself. Admiral Sir David Mitchell, pressed as the master of a 
merchantman, is a notable example. Admiral Campbell, " Hawke's 
right hand at Quiberon," who entered the service as a substitute for a 
pressed man, is another ; and James Clephen, pressed as a sea-going 
apprentice, became master's-mate of the Doris, and taking part in 
the cutting out of the Chevrette, a corvette of twenty guns, from Cameret 
Bay, in 1801, was for his gallantry on that occasion made a lieutenant, 
fought at Trafalgar and died a captain. On the other hand, John 
Norris, pressed at Gallions Reach out of a collier and " ordered to walk 
the quarter-deck as a midshipman," proved such a " laisie, sculking, idle 
fellow," and so " filled the sloop and men with vermin," that his promoter 
had serious thoughts of "turning him ashore." — Ad. i. 1477 — Capt. 
Bruce, undated letter, 1741. 

2 Ad. Ships' Musters, i. 10614— Muster Book of H. M.S. Ganges. 

^ Ad. I. 5339— Dying Declaration of the Late Unfortunate Richard 
Parker, 28 June 1797. 

* Ad. Ships' Musters, i. 10420, 10421— Muster Books of H.M. Sloop 


nearly fourteen years, but on the 31st of March 
1797, the year which brought his period of service 
to so tragic a conclusion, he suddenly reappears at 
the Leith rendezvous as a Quota Man for the county 
of Perth. Questioned as to his past, he told Brenton, 
then in charge of that rendezvous, ''that he had been 
a petty officer or acting lieutenant on board the 
Mediator, Capt. James Lutterell, at the taking of five 
prizes in 1783, when he received a very large pro- 
portion of prize-money."^ The inaccuracies evident 
on the face of this statement are unquestionably due 
to Brenton's defective recollection rather than to 
Parker's untruthfulness. Brenton wrote his report 
nearly two and a half months after the event. 

After a period of detention on board the tender 
at Leith, Parker, in company with other Quota and 
pressed men, was conveyed to the Nore in one of the 
revenue vessels occasionally utilised for that purpose, 
and there put on board the Sandwich^ the flag-ship 
for that division of the fleet. At half-past nine on 
the morning of the 12th of May, upon the 2nd 
lieutenant's giving orders to ''clear hawse," the ship's 
company got on the booms and gave three cheers, 
which were at once answered from the Director, 
They then reeved yard-ropes as a menace to those 
of the crew who would not join them, and trained the 
forecastle guns on the quarter-deck as a hint to the 
officers. The latter were presently put on shore, and 
that same day the mutineers unanimously chose 
Parker to be their " President" or leader.^ The fact 

^ Ad. I. 1 5 17 — Capt. Brenton, lo June 1797. 

^ Ad. I. 5339 — Court - Martial on Richard Parker: Deposition of 
Lieut. Justice. 


that he had been pressed in the first instance, and 
that after having served for a time in the capacity of 
a "quarter-deck young gentleman" he had been 
unceremoniously derated, singled him out for this 
distinction. There was amongst the mutineers, 
moreover, no other so eligible ; for whatever Parker's 
faults, he was unquestionably a man of superior 
ability and far from inferior attainments. 

The reeving of yard-ropes was his idea, though 
he disclaimed it. An extraordinary mixture of 
tenderness and savagery, he wept when it was 
proposed to fire upon a runaway ship, the Repulse, 
but the next moment drove a crowbar into the muzzle 
of the already heavily shotted gun and bade the 
gunner **send her to hell where she belonged." "■ I'll 
make a beefsteak of you at the yard-arm " was his 
favourite threat.^ It was prophetic, for that way, as 
events quickly proved, lay the finish of his own 

At nine o'clock on the morning of the 30th of 
June Parker, convicted and sentenced to death after 
a fair trial, stood on the scaffold awaiting his now 
imminent end. The halter, greased to facilitate his 
passing, was already about his neck, and in one of 
his hands, which had been freed at his own request, 
he held a handkerchief borrowed for the occasion 
from one of the officers of the ship. This he 
suddenly dropped. It was the preconcerted signal, 
and as the fatal gun boomed out in response to it he 

'^ Ad. I. 5339— Court - Martial on Richard Parker: Depositions of 
Capt. John Wood, of H.M. Sloop Hound, William Livingston, boat- 
swain of the Director, and Thomas Barry, seaman on board the 


thrust his hands into his pockets with great rapidity 
and jumped into mid-air, meeting his death without 
a tremor and with scarce a convulsion. Thanks to 
the clearness of the atmosphere and the facility with 
which the semaphores did their work that morning, 
the Admiralty learnt the news within seven minutes.^ 

Now comes the woman's part in the drama on 
which the curtain rose with the pressing of Parker in 
'83, and fell, not with his execution at the yard-arm 
of the Sandwich, as one would suppose, but four days 
after that event. 

In one of his spells of idleness ashore Parker had 
married a Scotch girl, the daughter of an Aberdeen- 
shire farmer — a tragic figure of a woman whose fate 
it was to be always too late. Hearing that her 
husband had taken the bounty, she set out with all 
speed for Leith, only to learn, upon her arrival there, 
that he was already on his way to the fleet. At 
Leith she tarried till rumours of his pending trial 
reached the north country. The magistrates would 
then have put her under arrest, designing to examine 
her, but the Admiralty, to whom Brenton reported 
their intention, vetoed the proceeding as superfluous. 
The case against Parker was already complete.^ 
Left free to follow the dictates of her tortured heart, 
the distracted woman posted south. 

Eating his last breakfast in the gun-room of the 
Sandwich, Parker talked affectionately of his wife, 
saying that he had made his will and left her a small 
estate he was heir to. Little did he dream that she 
was then within a few miles of him. 

1 Trial and Life of Richard Parker, Manchester, 1797. 

2 Ad. I. 1517— Capt. Brenton, 15 June 1797, and endorsement. 


The Sandwich lay that morning above Black- 
stakes, the headmost ship of the fleet, and at the 
moment when Parker leapt from her cathead scaffold 
a boat containing his wife shot out into the stream. 
He was run up to the yard-arm before her very eyes. 
She was again too late. 

He hung there for an hour. Meantime, with a 
tenacity of purpose as touching as her devotion, the 
unhappy woman applied to the Admiral for the body 
of her husband. She was denied, and Parker's 
remains were committed to the new naval burial 
ground, beyond the Red- Barrier Gate leading to 
Minster. The burial took place at noon. By night- 
fall the grief-stricken woman had come to an amazing 
resolution. She would steal the body. 

Ten o'clock that night found her at the place of 
interment. Save for the presence of the sentinel at 
the adjoining Barrier Gate, the loneliness of the spot 
favoured her design, but a ten-foot palisade sur- 
rounded the grounds, and she had neither tools nor 
helpers. Unexpectedly three women came that way. 
To them she disclosed her purpose, praying them for 
the love of God to help her. Perhaps they were 
sailors' wives. Anyhow, they assented, and the four 
body-snatchers scaled the fence. 

The absence of tools, as it happened, presented 
no serious impediment to the execution of their 
design. The grave was a shallow one, the freshly 
turned mould loose and friable. Digging with their 
hands, they soon uncovered the coffin, which they 
then contrived to raise and hoist over the cemetery 
gates into the roadway, where they sat upon it to 
conceal it from chance passers-by till four o'clock in 

Mary Anne Talbot. 
Dressed as a sailor. 


the morning. It was then daylight. The neigh- 
bouring drawbridge was let down, and, a fish-cart 
opportunely passing on its way to Rochester, the 
driver was prevailed upon to carry the ''lady's box" 
into that town. A guinea served to allay his 

Three days later a caravan drew up before the 
"Hoop and Horseshoe" tavern, in Queen Street, 
Little Tower Hill. A woman alighted — furtively, 
for it was now broad daylight, whereas she had 
planned to arrive while it was still dark. A watch- 
man chanced to pass at the moment, and the woman's 
strange behaviour aroused his suspicions. Pulling 
aside the covering of the van, he looked in and saw 
there the rough coffin containing the body of Parker, 
which the driver of the caravan had carried up from 
Rochester for the sum of six guineas. Later in the 
day the magistrates sitting at Lambeth Street Police 
Court ordered its removal, and it was deposited in 
the vaults of Whitechapel church.^ 

Full confirmation of this extraordinary story, 
should any doubt it, may be-found in the registers 
of the church in question. Amongst the burials 
there we read this entry: '' 4 July, //p/, Richard 
Parker, Skeerness, Kent, age jj. Cause of death, 
execution. This was Parker, the President of the 
Mutinotis Delegates on board the fleet at the Nore. 
He was hanged on board H.M,S. Sandwich on the 
sot h day of June y^ 

^ Trial and Life of Richard Parker, Manchester, 1797. 

* Burial Registers of St. Mary Matfellon, Whitechapel, 1797. 



Once the gang had a man in its power, his immediate 
destination was either the rendezvous press-room or 
the tender employed as a substitute for that indis- 
pensable place of detention. 

The press-room, lock-up or '* shut-up house," as it 
was variously termed, must not be confounded with 
the press-room at Newgate, where persons indicted 
for felony, and perversely refusing to plead, were 
pressed beneath weights till they complied with that 
necessary legal formality. From that historic cell the 
rendezvous press-room differed widely, both in nature 
and in use. Here the pressed men were confined 
pending their dispatch to His Majesty's ships. As a 
matter of course the place was strongly built, heavily 
barred and massively bolted, being in these respects 
merely a commonplace replica of the average bride- 
well. Where it differed from the bridewell was in its 
walls. Theoretically these were elastic. No matter 
how many they held, there was always room within 
them for more. As late as 1806 the press-room at 
Bristol consisted of a cell only eight feet square, and into 
this confined space sixteen men were frequently packed.^ 

^ Ad. I. 581— Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 14 March 


Nearly everywhere it was the same gruesome 
story. The sufferings of the pressed man went for 
nothing so long as the pressed man was kept. 
Provided only the bars were dependable and the 
bolts staunch, anything would do to *' clap him up in." 
The town '* cage " came in handy for the purpose ; and 
when no other means of securing him could be found, 
he was thrust into the local prison like a common 
felon, often amidst surroundings unspeakably awful. 

According to the elder Wesley, no '' seat of woe " 
on this side of the Bottomless Pit outrivalled Newgate 
except one.^ The exception was Bristol jail. A 
filthy, evil-smelling hole, crowded with distempered 
prisoners without medical care, it was deservedly 
held in such dread as to ''make all seamen fly the 
river " for fear of being pressed and committed to it. 
For when the eight-foot cell at the rendezvous would 
hold no more, Bristol pressed men were turned in 
here — to come out, if they survived the pestilential 
atmosphere of the place, either fever-stricken or 
pitiful, vermin-covered objects from whom even the 
hardened gangsman shrank with fear and loathing.^ 
Putting humane considerations entirely aside, it is well- 
nigh inconceivable that so costly an asset as the 
pressed man should ever have been exposed to such 
sanitary risks. The explanation doubtless lies in the 
enormous amount of pressing that was done. The 
number of men taken was in the aggregate so great 
that a life more or less was hardly worth considering. 

Of ancient use as a county jail, Gloucester 
Castle stood far higher in the pressed man's esteem 

^ London Chronicle^ 6 Jan. 1761. 

2 Ad. I. 1490 — Capt. Brown, 4 Aug. 1759. 


as a place of detention than did its sister prison 
on the Avon. The reason is noteworthy. Richard 
Evans, for many years keeper there, possessed a 
magic palm. Rub it with silver in sufficient quantity, 
and the " street door of the gaol " opened before you 
at noonday, or, when at night all was as quite as the 
keeper's conscience, a plank vanished from the roof 
of your cell, and as you stood lost in wonder at its 
disappearance there came snaking down through the 
hole thus providentially formed a rope by the aid of 
which, if you were a sailor or possessed of a sailor's 
agility and daring, it was feasible to make your escape 
over the ramparts of the castle, though they towered 
"most as high as the Monument."^ 

In the absence of the gang on road or other 
extraneous duty the precautions taken for the safety 
of pressed men were often very inadequate, and this 
circumstance gave rise to many an impromptu rescue. 
Sometimes the local constable was commandeered as 
a temporary guard, and a story is told of how, the 
gang having once locked three pressed men into the 
cage at Isleworth and stationed the borough watch- 
man over them, one Thomas Purser raised a mob, 
demolished the door of the cage, and set its delighted 
occupants free amid frenzied shouts of : ** Pay away 
within, my lads ! and we'll pay away without. Damn 
the constable ! He has no warrant." ^ 

In strict accordance with the regulations governing, 
or supposed to govern, the keeping of rendezvous, 
the duration of the pressed man's confinement ought 
never to have exceeded four-and-twenty hours from 

^ Ad. I. 1490— Capt. Brown, 28 April and 26 May 1759. 
2 Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 99. 


the time of his capture ; but as a matter of fact it 
often extended far beyond that limit. Everything 
depended on the gang. If men were brought in 
quickly, they were as quickly got rid of; but when 
they dribbled in in one's and two's, with perhaps 
intervals of days when nothing at all was doing, 
weeks sometimes elapsed before a batch of suitable 
size could be made ready and started on its journey 
to the ships. 

All this time the pressed man had to be fed, or, 
as they said in the service, subsisted or victualled, 
and for this purpose a sum varying from sixpence to 
ninepence a day, according to the cost of provisions, 
was allowed him. On this generous basis he was 
nourished for a hundred years or more, till one day 
early in the nineteenth century some half-score of 
gaunt, hungry wretches, cooped up for eight weary 
weeks in an East-coast press-room during the rigours 
of a severe winter, made the startling discovery that 
the time-honoured allowance was insufficient to keep 
soul and body together. They accordingly addressed 
a petition to the Admiralty, setting forth the cause 
and nature of their sufferings, and asking for a 
"rise." A dozen years earlier the petition would 
have been tossed aside as insolent and unworthy of 
consideration ; but the sharp lesson of the Nore 
mutiny happened to be still fresh in their Lordships' 
memories, so with unprecedented generosity and 
haste they at once augmented the allowance, and that 
too for the whole kingdom, to fifteen-pence a day.^ 

It was a red-letter day for the pressed man. A 

^ Ad. I. 1546— Petition of the Pressed Men at King's Lynn, 27 Jan. 
1809, and endorsement. 


single stroke of the official pen had raised him from 
starvation to opulence, and thenceforward, when 
food was cheap and the purchasing power of the 
penny high, he regaled himself daily, as at Limerick 
in 1 8 14, on such abundant fare as a pound of beef, 
seven and a half pounds of potatoes, a pint of milk, 
a quart of porter, a boiling of greens and a mess of 
oatmeal ; or, if he happened to be a Catholic, on fish 
and butter twice a week instead of beef. The quantity 
of potatoes is worthy of remark. It was peculiar to 
Ireland, where the lower classes never used bread. ^ 

Though faring thus sumptuously at his country's 
expense, the pressed man did not always pass the 
days of his detention in unprofitable idleness. There 
were certain eventualities to be thought of and 
provided against. Sooner or later he must go before 
the "gent with the swabs" and be "regulated," that 
is to say, stripped to the waist, or further if that 
exacting officer deemed it advisable, and be critically 
examined for physical ailments and bodily defects. 
In this examination the local " saw-bones " would 
doubtless lend a hand, and to outwit the combined 
skill of both captain and surgeon was a point of 
honour with the pressed man if by any possibility it 
could be done. With this laudable end in view he 
devoted much of his enforced leisure to the rehearsal 
of such symptoms and the fabrication of such defects 
as were best calculated to make him a free man. 

For the sailor to deny his vocation was worse 
than useless. The ganger s shrewd code — " All as 
says they be land-lubbers when I says they baint, be 
liars, and all liars be seamen " — effectually shut that 

^ Ad. I. 1455— Capt. Argles, i March 1814. 


door in his face. There were other openings, it is 
true, whereby a knowing chap might wriggle free, 
but officers and medicoes were extremely "fly." He 
had not practised his many deceptions upon them 
through long years for nothing. They well knew 
that on principle he *' endeavoured by every stratagem 
in his power to impose " — that he was, in short, a 
cunning cheat whose most serious ailments were to be 
regarded with the least sympathy and the utmost 
suspicion. Yet in spite of this disquieting fact the old 
hand, whom long practice had made an adept at 
deception, and who, when he was so inclined, could 
simulate *' complaints of a nature to baffle the skill of 
any professional man,"^ rarely if ever faced the ordeal 
of regulating without ** trying it on." Often, indeed, 
he anticipated it. There was nothing like keeping 
his hand in. 

Fits were his great stand-by,^ and the time he 
chose for these convulsive turns was generally night, 
when he could count upon a full house and nothing 
to detract from the impressiveness of the show. 
Suddenly, at night, then, a weird, horribly inarticu- 
late cry is heard issuing from the press-room, and at 
once all is uproar and confusion. Unable to make 
himself heard, much less to restore order, and fearing 
that murder is being done amongst the pressed men, 
the sentry hastily summons the officer, who rushes 
down, half-dressed, and hails the press-room. 
** Hullo ! within there. What's wrong? " 
Swift silence. Then, ** Man in a fit, sir," replies 
a quavering voice. 

1 Ad. I. 1540— Capt. Barker, 5 Nov. 1807. 

2 Ad. I. 1534 — Capt. Barker, 11 Jan. 1805, and many instances. 


" Out with him ! " cries the officer. 

Immediately, the door being hurriedly unbarred, 
the " case " is handed out by his terrified companions, 
who are only too glad to be rid of him. To all 
appearances he is in a true epileptic state. In the 
light of the lantern, held conveniently near by one of 
the gangsmen, who have by this time turned out in 
various stages of undress, his features are seen to be 
strongly convulsed. His breathing is laboured and 
noisy, his head rolls incessantly from side to side. 
Foam tinged with blood oozes from between his 
gnashing teeth, flecking his lips and beard, and when 
his limbs are raised they fall back as rigid as 

After surveying him critically for a moment the 
officer, if he too is an old hand, quietly removes the 
candle from the lantern and with a deft turn of his 
wrist tips the boiling-hot contents of the tallow cup 
surrounding the flaming wick out upon the bare arm 
or exposed chest of the "case." When the fit was 
genuine, as of course it sometimes was, the test had 
no particular reviving effect ; but if the man were 
shamming, as he probably was in spite of the great 
consistency of his symptoms, the chances were that, 
with all his nerve and foreknowledge of what was in 
store for him, the sudden biting of the fiery liquid 
into his naked flesh would bring him to his feet dancing 
with pain and cursing and banning to the utmost 
extent of his elastic vocabulary. 

^ Almost the only symptom of le grand mal which the sailor could 
not successfully counterfeit was the abnormal dilation of the pupils so 
characteristic of that complaint, and this difficulty he overcame by 
rolling his eyes up till the pupils were invisible. 


When this happened, ** Put him back," said the 
officer. '' He'll do, alow or aloft." 

Going aloft at sea was the true epileptic's chief 
dread. And with good reason, for sooner or later 
it meant a fall, and death. 

In the meantime other enterprising members of 
the press-room community made ready for the scru- 
tiny of the official eye in various ways, practising 
many devices for procuring a temporary disability and 
a permanent discharge. Some, horrible thought ! 
*' rubbed themselves with Cow Itch and Whipped 
themselves with Nettles to appear in Scabbs " ; 
others ''burnt themselves with oil of vitriol" to 
induce symptoms with difficulty distinguishable from 
those of scurvy, that disease of such dread omen to 
the fleet ; whilst others emulated the passing of the 
poor consumptive of the canting epitaph, whose 
"legs it was that carried her off." Bad legs, indeed, 
ran a close race with fits in the pressed man's sprint 
for liberty. They were so easily induced, and so 
cheaply. The industrious application of the smallest 
copper coin procurable, the humble farthing or the 
halfpenny, speedily converted the most insignificant 
abrasion of the skin into a festering sore.^ 

Here and there a man of iron nerve, acting on 
the common belief that if you had lost a finger the 
Navy would have none of you, adopted a more 
heroic method of shaking off the clutch of the gang. 
Such a man was Samuel Caradine, some time in- 

^ Ad. I. 1439 — Capt. Ambrose, 20 June 1741 ; Ad. i. 1544— Capt. 
Bowyer, 18 Dec. 1808 ; Ad. i. 145 1 — A. Clarke, Examining Surgeon 
at Dublin, 18 May 1807 ; Ad. i. 15 17 — Letters of Capt. Brenton, March 
and April 1797? and many instances. 


habitant of Kendal. Committed to the House of 
Correction there as a preHminary to his being turned 
over to the fleet for crimes that he had done, he 
expressed a desire to bid farewell to his wife. She 
was sent for, and came, apparently not unprepared ; 
for after she had greeted her man through the iron 
door of his cell, ''he put his hand underneath, and 
she, with a mallet and chisel concealed for the pur- 
pose, struck off a finger and thumb to render him 
unfit for His Majesty's service."^ 

A stout-hearted fellow named Browne, who hailed 
from Chester, would have made Caradine a fitting 
mate. " Being impressed into the sea service, he 
very violently determined, in order to extricate him- 
self therefrom, to mutilate the thumb and a finger 
of his left hand ; which he accomplished by repeatedly 
maiming them with an old ha^tchet that he had 
obtained for that purpose. He was immediately 
discharged."^ Such men as these were a substantial 
loss to the service. Fighting a gun shoulder to 
shoulder, what fearful execution would they not have 
wrought upon the '' hereditary enemy " ! 

It did not always do, however, to presume upon 
the loss of a forefinger, particularly if it were missing 
from the left hand. Capt. Barker, while he was 
regulating the press at Bristol, once had occasion to 
send into Ilchester for a couple of brace of convicts 
who had received the royal pardon on condition of 
their serving at sea. Near Shepton Mallet, on the 
return tramp, his gangsmen fell in with a party armed 
with sticks and knives, who "beat and cut them in 
a very cruel manner." They succeeded, however, 

^ Times, 3 Nov. 1795. ^ Liverpool Advertiser, 6 June 1777. 


in taking the ringleader, one Charles Biggen, and 
brought him in; but when Barker would have dis- 
charged the fellow because his left forefinger was 
wanting, the Admiralty brushed the customary rule 
aside and ordered him to be kept/ 

The main considerations entering into the dispatch 
of pressed men to the fleet, when at length their 
period of detention at headquarters came to an end, 
were economy, speed and safety. Transport was 
necessarily either by land or water, and in the case 
of seaport, river or canal towns, both modes were 
of course available. Gangs operating at a distance 
from the sea, or remote from a navigable river or 
canal, were from their very situation obliged to send 
their catch to market either wholly by land, or by 
land and water successively. Land transport, though 
always healthier, and in many instances speedier and 
cheaper than transport by water, was nevertheless 
much more risky. Pressed men therefore preferred 
it. The risks — rescue and desertion — were all in 
their favour. Hence, when they " offered chearfully 
to walk up," or down, as the case might be, the 
seeming magnanimity of the offer was never per- 
mitted to blind those in charge of them to the need 
for a strong attendant guard.^ The men would have 
had to walk in any case, for transport by coach, 
though occasionally sanctioned, was an event of rare 

1 Ad. I. 1528— Capt. Barker, 28 July 1803, and endorsement. 

2 In the spring of 1795 a body of Quota Men, some 130 strong, 
voluntarily marched from Liverpool to London, a distance of 182 
miles, instead of travelling by coach as at first proposed. Though all 
had received the bounty and squandered it in debauchery, not a man 
deserted ; and in their case the danger of rescue was of course absent. 
Ad. I. 151 1— Capt. Bowen, 21 April 1795. 



occurrence. A number procured in Berkshire were 
in 1756 forwarded to London "by the Reading 
machines," but this was an exceptional indulgence 
due to the state of their feet, which were already 
"blistered with travelling." 

Even with the precaution of a strong guard, there 
were parts of the country through which it was highly 
imprudent, if not altogether impracticable, to venture 
a party on foot. Of these the thirty-mile stretch of 
road between Kilkenny and Waterford, the nearest 
seaport, perhaps enjoyed the most unenviable repu- 
tation. No gang durst traverse it ; and no body 
of pressed men, and more particularly of pressed 
Catholics, could ever have been conveyed even for 
so short a distance through a country inhabited by 
a fanatical and strongly disaffected people without 
courting certain bloodshed. The naval authorities in 
consequence left Kilkenny severely alone.^ 

The sending of men overland from Appledore to 
Plymouth, a course frequently adopted to avoid the 
circuitous sea-route, was attended with similar risks. 
The hardy miners and quarrymen of the intervening 
moorlands loved nothing so much as knocking the 
gangsman on the head.^ 

The attenuated neck of land between the Mersey 
and the Dee had an evil reputation for affairs of this 
description. Men pressed at Chester, and sent across 
the neck to the tenders or ships of war in the Mersey, 
seldom reached their destination unless attended by 
an exceptionally strong escort. The reason is briefly 

^ Ad. I. 1529— Capt. Bowen, 12 Oct. 1803. 

* Ad. I. 581 — Admiral Berkeley, Report on Rendezvous, 22 Sept. 


but graphically set forth by Capt. Ayscough, who 
dispatched three such men from Chester, under con- 
voy of his entire gang, in 1780. '*On the road 
thither/' says he, ''about seven miles from hence, at 
a village called Sutton, they were met by upwards 
of one Hundred Arm'd Seamen from Parkgate, be- 
longing to different privateers at Liverpool. An 
Affray ensued, and the three Impress'd men were 
rescued by the Mobb, who Shot one of my Gang 
through the Body and wounded two others." ^ Park- 
gate, it will be recalled, was a notorious *' nest of 
seamen." The alternative route to Liverpool, by 
passage-boat down the Dee, was both safer and 
cheaper. To send a pressed man that way, accom- 
panied by two of the gang, cost only twelve-and- 

Mr. Midshipman Goodave and party, convoying 
pressed men from Lymington to Southampton, once 
met with an adventure in traversing the New Forest 
which, notwithstanding its tragic sequel, is not with- 
out its humorous side. They had left the little 
fishing village of Lepe some miles behind, and were 
just getting well into the Forest, when a cavalcade 
of mounted men, some thirty strong, all muffled in 
greatcoats and armed to the teeth, unexpectedly 
emerged from the wood and opened fire upon them. 
Believing it to be an attempt at rescue, the gang 
closed in about their prisoners, but when one of these 
was the first to fall, his arm shattered and an ear shot 
off, the gangsmen, perceiving their mistake, broke 
and fled in all directions. Not far, however. The 

1 Ad. I. 1446 — Capt. Ayscough, 17 Nov. 1780. 
* Ad. I. 580— Admiral Phillip, 14 Sept. 1804. 


smugglers, for such they were, quickly rounded them 
up and proceeded, not to shoot them, as the would-be 
fugitives anticipated, but to administer to them the 
" smugglers' oath." This they did by forcing them 
on their knees and compelling them, at the point of 
the pistol and with horrible execrations, to "wish 
their eyes might drop out if they told their officers 
which way they, the smugglers, were gone." Having 
extorted this unique pledge of secrecy as to their 
movements, they rode away into the Forest, unaware 
that Mr. Midshipman Goodave, snugly ensconced in 
the neighbouring ditch, had seen and heard all that 
passed — a piece of discretion on his part that later on 
brought at least one of the smugglers into distressing 
contact with the law.^ 

Just as the dangers of the sea sometimes rendered 
it safer to dispatch pressed men from seaport towns 
by land — as at Exmouth, where the entrance to the 
port was in certain weathers so hazardous as to bottle 
all shipping up, or shut it out, for days together — so 
the dangers peculiar to the land rendered it as often 
expedient to dispatch them from inland towns by 
water. This was the case at Stourbridge. Handed 
over to contractors responsible for their safe-keeping, 
the numerous seamen taken by the gangs in that 
town and vicinity were delivered on board the tenders 
in King Road, below Bristol — conveyed thither by 
water, at a cost of half a guinea per head. This sum 
included subsistence, which would appear to have 
been mainly by water also. To Liverpool, the 
alternative port of delivery, carriage could only be 

^ Ad. 7. 300 — Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 18 : Informations 
of Shepherd Goodave, i Oct. 1779. 


had by land, and the risks of land transit in that 
direction were so great as to be considered insuper- 
able, to say nothing of the cost.^ 

At ports such as Liverpool, Dublin and Hull, 
where His Majesty's ships made frequent calls, the 
readiest means of disposing of pressed men was of 
course to put them immediately on ship-board ; but 
when no ship was thus available, or when, though 
available, she was bound foreign or on other pro- 
hibitive service, there was nothing for it, in the case 
of rendezvous lying so far afield as to render land 
transport impracticable, but to forward the harvest 
of the gangs by water. In this way there grew up 
a system of sea transport that centred from many 
distant and widely separated points of the kingdom 
upon those great entrepots for pressed men, the 
Hamoaze, Spithead and the Nore. 

Now and then, for reasons of economy or expedi- 
ency, men were shipped to these destinations as 
''passengers" on colliers and merchant vessels, their 
escort consisting of a petty officer and one or more 
gangsmen, according to the number to be safeguarded. 
Occasionally they had no escort at all, the masters 
being simply bound over to make good all losses 
arising from any cause save death, capture by an 
enemy's ship or the act of God. From King's 
Lynn to the Nore the rate per head, by this means 
of transport, was £2, 15s., including victualling ; from 
Hull, £2, I2S. 6d. ; from Newcastle, los. 6d. The 
lower rates for the longer runs are explained by the 
fact that, shipping facilities being so much more 
numerous on the Humber and the Tyne, competi- 

1 Ad. I. 1500— Letters of Capt. Beecher, 1780. 


tion reduced the cost of carriage in proportion to 
its activity.^ 

In spite of every precaution, such serious loss 
attended the shipping of men in this manner as to 
force the Admiralty back upon its own resources. 
Recourse was accordingly had, in the great majority 
of cases, to that handy auxiliary of the fleet, the hired 
tender. Tenders fell into two categories — cruising 
tenders, employed exclusively, or almost exclusively, 
in pressing afloat after the manner described in an 
earlier chapter, and tenders used for the double 
purpose of ** keeping" men pressed on land and of 
conveying them -to the fleet when their numbers grew 
to such proportions as to make a full and consequently 
dangerous ship. In theory, "any old unmasted hulk, 
unfit to send to sea, would answer to keep pressed 
men in." ^ In practice, the contrary was the case. 
Fitness for sea, combined with readiness to slip at 
short notice, was more essential than mere cubic 
capacity, since transhipment was thus avoided and 
the pressed man deprived of another chance of taking 
French leave. 

One all-important consideration, in the case of 
tenders employed for the storing and detention of 
pressed men prior to their dispatch to the fleet, was 
that the vessel should be able to lie afloat at low 
water ; for if the fall of the tide left her high and dry, 
the risk of desertion, as well as of attack from the 
shore, was enormously increased. Whitehaven could 
make no use of man-storing tenders for this reason ; 

^ Ad. I. 579 — Admiral Phillip, 3 and 11 Aug. 1801 ; Admiral 
Pringle, 2 April 1795. 

2 Ad. I. 579— Admiral Pringle, 2 April 1795. 


and at the important centre of King's Lynn, which 
was really a receiving station for three counties, it 
was found "requisite to have always a vessel below 
the Deeps to keep pressed men aboard," since their 
escape or rescue by way of the flats was in any 
anchorage nearer the town a foregone conclusion/ 

On board the tenders the comfort and health of 
the pressed man were no more studied than in the 
strong-rooms and prisons ashore. A part of the hold 
was required to be roughly but substantially parti- 
tioned off for his security, and on rare occasions this 
space was fitted with bunks ; but as the men usually 
arrived ''all very bare of necessaries" — except when 
pressed afloat, a case we are not now considering — 
any provision for the slinging of hammocks, or the 
spreading of bedding they did not possess, came to 
be looked upon as a superfluous and uncalled-for 
proceeding. Even the press-room was a rarity, save 
in tenders that had been long in the service. Down 
in the hold of the vessel, whither the men were turned 
like so many sheep as soon as they arrived on board, 
they perhaps found a rough platform of deal planks 
provided for them to lie on, and from this they were at 
liberty to extract such sorry comfort as they could during 
the weary days and nights of their incarceration. 
Other conveniences they had none. When this too 
was absent, as not infrequently happened, they were 
reduced to the necessity of " laying about on the 
Cables and Cask," suffering in consequence "more 
than can well be expressed."^ It is not too much 

1 Ad. I. i486— Capt. Baird, 27 Feb. 1755. 

2 Ad. I. 1439— Capt. A'Court, 22 April 1741 ; Ad. i. 1497— Capt. 
Bover, 11 Feb. 1777, and Captains' Letters, passim. 


to say that transported convicts had better treat- 

Cooped up for weeks at a stretch in a space 
invariably crowded to excess, deprived almost entirely 
of light, exercise and fresh air, and poisoned with bad 
water and what Roderick Random so truthfully called 
the "noisome stench of the place," it is hardly 
surprising that on protracted voyages from such 
distant ports as Limerick or Leith the men should 
have "fallen sick very fast."^ Officers were, indeed, 
charged "to be very careful of the healths of the 
seamen " entrusted to their keeping ; yet in spite of 
this most salutary regulation, so hopelessly bad were 
the conditions under which the men were habitually 
carried, and so slight was the effort made to ameliorate 
them, that few tenders reached their destination with- 
out a more or less serious outbreak of fever, small-pox 
or some other equally malignant distemper. Upon 
the fleet the effect was appalling. Sickly tenders 
could not but make sickly ships. 

If the material atmosphere of the tender's hold 
was bad, its moral atmosphere was unquestionably 
worse. Dark deeds were done here at times, and 
no man "peached" upon his fellows. Out of this 
deplorable state of things a remarkable legal proceed- 
ing once grew. Murder having been committed in 
the night, and none coming forward to implicate the 
offender, the coroner s jury, instead of returning their 
verdict against some person or persons unknown, 
found the entire occupants of the tender's hold, 
seventy-two in number, guilty of that crime. A 

* Ad. I. 1444— Capt. Allen, 4 March 1771, and Captains' Letters, 


warrant was actually issued for their apprehension, 
I though never executed. To put the men on their 
f trial was a useless step, since, in the circumstances, 
they would have been most assuredly acquitted/ 
Just as assuredly any informer in their midst would 
have been murdered. 

The scale of victualling on board the tenders was 
supposed to be the same as on shore. '* Full allowance 
daily " was the rule ; and if the copper proved too 
small to serve all at one boiling, there were to be as 
many boilings as should be required to go round. 
Unhappily for the pressed man, there was a weevil in 
his daily bread. While it was the bounden duty of 
the master of the vessel to feed him properly, and of 
the officers to see that he was properly fed, '* officers 
and masters generally understood each other too well 
in the pursery line." ^ Rations were consequently 
short, boilings deficient, and though the cabin went well 
content, the hold was the scene of bitter grumblings. 

Nor were these the only disabilities the pressed 
man laboured under. His officers proved a sore trial 
to him. The Earl of Pembroke, Lord High Admiral, 
foreseeing that this would be the case, directed that 
he should be ** used with all possible tenderness and 
humanity." The order was little regarded. The 
callosity of Smollett's midshipman, who spat in the 
pressed man's face when he dared to complain of his 
sufferings, and roughly bade him die for aught he 
cared, was characteristic of the service. Hence a 
later regulation, with grim irony, gave directions for 
his burial. He w^as to be put out of the way, as soon 

1 Aii. 7. 300— Law Officers' Opinions, 1778-83, No. 20. 

2 Ad. I. 579— Admiral M'Bride, 19 March 1795. 


as might be after the fatal conditions prevailing on 
board His Majesty's tenders had done their work, 
with as great a show of decency as could be extracted 
from the sum of ten shillings. 

Strictly speaking, it was not in the power of 
the tender's officers to mitigate the hardships of the 
pressed man's lot to any appreciable extent, let them be 
as humane as they might. For this the pressed man 
himself was largely to blame. An ungrateful rogue, 
his hide was as impervious to kindness as a duck's 
back to water. Supply him with slops ^ wherewith 
to cover his nakedness or shield him from the cold, 
and before the Sunday muster came round the 
garments had vanished — not into thin air, indeed, 
but in tobacco and rum, for which forbidden luxuries 
he invariably bartered them with the bumboat women 
who had the run of the vessel while she remained in 
harbour. Or allow him on deck to take the air and 
such exercise as could be got there, and the moment 
your back was turned he was away sans cong4. Few 
of these runaways were as considerate as that Scotch 
humorist, William Ramsay, who was pressed at Leith 
for beating an informer and there put on board the 
tender. Seizing the first opportunity of absconding, 
" Sir," he wrote to the lieutenant in command, '•' I am 
so much attached to you for the good usage I have 
received at your hands, that I cannot think of ventur- 
ing on board your ship again in the present state of 
affairs. I therefore leave this letter at my father's 

^ The regulations stipulated that slops should be served out to all 
who needed them ; but as their acceptance was held to set up a contract 
between the recipient and the Crown, the pressed man was not un- 
naturally averse from drawing upon such a source of supply as long as 
any chance of escape remained to him. 


to inform you that I intend to slip out of the 

When that clever adventuress, Moll Flanders, 
found herself booked for transportation beyond the 
seas, her one desire, it will be recalled, was ** to come 
back before she went." So it was with the pressed 
man. The idea of escape obsessed him — escape 
before he should be rated on shipboard and sent 
away to heaven only knew what remote quarter of 
the globe. It was for this reason that irons were so 
frequently added to his comforts. " Safe bind, safe 
find " was the golden rule on board His Majesty's 

How difficult it was for him to carry his cherished 
design into execution, and yet how easy, is brought 
home to us with surprising force by the catastrophe 
that befell the Tasker tender. On the 23rd of May 
1755 the Tasker sailed out of the Mersey with a full 
cargo of pressed men designed for Spithead. She 
possessed no press-room, and as the men for that 
reason had the run of the hold, all hatches were 
securely battened down with the exception of the 
maindeck scuttle, an opening so small as to admit of 
the passage of but one man at a time. Her crew 
numbered thirty-eight, and elaborate precautions were 
taken for the safe-keeping of her restless human 
freight. So much is evident from the disposition of 
her guard, which was as follows : — 

{a) At the open scuttle two sentries, armed with 
pistol and cutlass. Orders, not to let too 
many men up at once. 

^ Ad. I. 1524.— Capt. Brenton, 20 Oct. 1800. 


{d) On the forecastle two sentries, armed with 
musket and bayonet. Orders, to fire on any 
pressed man who should attempt to swim 

(c) On the poop one sentry, similarly armed, and 

having similar orders. 

(d) On the quarter-deck, at the entrance to the 

great cabin, where the remaining arms were 
kept, one sentry, armed with cutlass and 
pistol. Orders, to let no pressed man come 
upon the quarter-deck. 

There were thus six armed sentinels stationed 
about the ship — ample to have nipped in the bud any 
attempt to seize the vessel, but for two serious errors 
of judgment on the part of the officer responsible for 
their disposition. These were, first, the discretionary 
power vested in the sentries at the scuttle ; and, second, 
the inadequate guard, a solitary man, set for the 
defence of the great cabin and the arms it contained. 
Now let us see how these errors of judgment affected 
the situation. 

Either through stupidity, bribery or because they 
were rapidly making an offing, the sentries at the 
scuttle, as the day wore on, admitted a larger number 
of pressed men to the comparative freedom of the 
deck than was consistent with prudence. The number 
eventually swelled to fourteen — sturdy, determined 
fellows, the pick of the hold. One of them, 
having a fiddle, struck up a merry tune, the rest fell 
to dancing, the tender's crew who were off duty 
caught the infection and joined in, while the officers 
stood looking on, tolerantly amused and wholly un- 


suspicious of danger. Suddenly, just when the fun 
was at its height, a splash was heard, a cry of '* Man 
overboard ! " ran from lip to lip, and officers and crew 
rushed to the vessel's side. They were there, gazing 
into the sea, for only a minute or two, but by the 
time they turned their faces inboard again the fourteen 
determined men were masters of the ship. In the 
brief disciplinary interval they had overpowered the 
guard and looted the cabin of its store of arms. That 
night they carried the tender into Redwharf Bay 
and there bade her adieu.^ To pursue them in so 
mountainous a country would have been useless ; to 
punish them, even had they been retaken, impossible. 
As unrated men they were neither mutineers nor 
deserters,^ and the seizure of the tender was at the 
worst a bloodless crime in which no one was hurt save 
an obdurate sentry, who was slashed over the head 
with a cutlass. 

The boldness of its inception and the anticlimaxical 
nature of its finish invest another exploit of this 
description with an interest all its own. This was the 
cutting out of the Union tender from the river Tyne 
on the 1 2th April 1777. The commander, Lieut. 
Colville, having that day gone on shore for the 

'^ Ad. I. 920 — Admiral Sir Edward Hawke, 3 June 1755, and 

2 By 4 & 5 Anne, cap. 6, pressed men could be apprehended and 
tried for desertion by virtue of the Queen's shilling having been forced 
upon them at the time they were pressed, but as the use of that coin fell 
into abeyance, so the Act in question became gradually a dead-letter. 
Hay, Murray, Lloyd, Pinfold and Jervis, Law Officers of the Crown, 
giving an opinion on this important point in 1756, held that "pressed 
men are not subject to the Articles (of War) until they are actually rated 
on board some of His Majesty's ships." — Ad. 7. 299 — Law Officers' 
Opinions, 1756-77, No. 3, Case 2, 


** benefit of the air," and young Barker, the midship- 
man who was left in charge in his absence, having 
surreptitiously followed suit, the pressed men and 
volunteers, to the number of about forty, taking 
advantage of the opportunity thus presented, rose and 
seized the vessel, loaded the great guns, and by dint 
of threatening to sink any boat that should attempt to 
board them kept all comers, including the commander 
himself, at bay till nine o'clock in the evening. By 
that time night had fallen, so, with the wind blowing 
strong off-shore and an ebb-tide running, they cut the 
cables and stood out to sea. For three days nothing 
was heard of them, and North Shields, the scene of 
the exploit and the home of most of the runaways, was 
just on the point of giving the vessel up for lost when 
news came that she was safe. Influenced by one 
Benjamin Lamb, a pressed man of more than ordinary 
character, the rest had relinquished their original 
purpose of either crossing over to Holland or running 
the vessel ashore on some unfrequented part of the 
coast, and had instead carried her into Scarborough 
Bay, doubtless hoping to land there without inter- 
ference and so make their way to Whitby or Hull. 
In this design, however, they were partly frustrated, 
for, a force having been hastily organised for their 
apprehension, they were waylaid as they came ashore 
and retaken to the number of twenty-two, the rest 
escaping. Lamb, discharged for his good offices in 
saving the tender, was offered a boatswain's place if 
he would re-enter ; but for poor Colville the affair 
proved disastrous. Becoming demented, he attempted 
to shoot himself and had to be superseded.^ 

1 Ad. I. 1497— Capt. Bover, 13 April 1777, and enclosures. 


All down through the century similar incidents, 
crowding thick and fast one upon another, relieved 
the humdrum routine of the pressed man's passage 
to the fleet, and either made his miserable life in 
a measure worth living or brought it to a summary 
conclusion. Of minor incidents, all tending to the 
same happy or unhappy end, there was no lack. 
Now he sweltered beneath a sun so hot as to 
cause the pitch to boil in the seams of the deck 
above his head ; again, as when the Boneta sloop, 
conveying pressed men from Liverpool to the 
Hamoaze in 1740, encountered '' Bedds of two or 
three Acres bigg of Ice & of five or Six foot 
thicknesse, which struck her with such force 'twas 
enough to drive her bows well out," he '' almost 
perished " from cold.^ To-day it was broad farce. 
He held his sides with laughter to see the lieutenant 
of the tender he was in, mad with rage and drink, 
chase the steward round and round the mainmast 
with a loaded pistol, whilst the terrified hands, fearing 
for their lives, fled for refuge to the coalhole, the 
roundtops and the shore.^ To-morrow it was tragedy. 
Some "little dirty privateer" swooped down upon 
him, as in the case of the Admiral Spry tender from 
Waterford to Plymouth,^ and consigned him to what 
he dreaded infinitely more than any man-o'-war — a 
French prison ; or contrary winds, swelling into a 
sudden gale, drove him a helpless wreck on to some 
treacherous coast, as they drove the Rich Charlotte 

^ Ad. I. 2732 — Capt. Young, 8 Feb. 1739-40. 

2 Ad. I. 1498 — Complaint of the Master and Company of H.M. 
Hired Tender Speedwell^ 21 Dec. 1778. 

' Ad. I. 1500 — Dickson, Surveyor of Customs at the Cove of Cork, 
20 April 1780. 


upon the Formby Sands in 1745,^ and there remorse- 
lessly drowned him. 

Provided he escaped such untoward accidents as 
death or capture by the enemy, sooner or later the 
pressed man arrived at the receiving station. Here 
another ordeal awaited him, and here also he made 
his last bid for freedom. 

Taking the form of a final survey or regulating, 
the ordeal the pressed man had now to face was 
no less thoroughgoing than its precursor at the 
rendezvous had in all probability been superficial 
and ineffective. Eyes saw deeper here, wits were 
sharper, and in this lay at once the pressed man's 
bane and salvation. For if genuinely unfit, the fact 
was speedily demonstrated ; whereas if merely sham- 
ming, discovery overtook him with a certainty that 
wrote " finis " to his last hope. Nevertheless, for this 
ordeal, as for his earlier regulating at the rendezvous, 
the sailor who knew his book prepared himself with 
exacting care during the tedium of his voyage. 

No sooner was he mustered for survey, then, 
than the most extraordinary, impudent and in many 
instances transparent impostures were sprung upon 
his examiners. Deafness prevailed to an alarming 
extent, dumbness was by no means unknown. Men 
who fought desperately when the gang took them, or 
who played cards with great assiduity in the tender's 
hold, developed sudden paralysis of the arms.^ Legs 
which had been soundness itself at the rendezvous 

^ Ad. I. 1440 — Capt. Amherst, 4 Oct. 1745. 

^ Ad. I. 1464— Capt. Bloyes, Jan. 1702-3; Ad. i. 1470 — Capt. 

Bennett, 26 Sept. 171 1. An extraordinary instance of this form of 
malingering is cited in the " Naval Sketch- Book," 1826. 


were now a putrefying mass of sores. The itch broke 
out again, virulent and from all accounts incurable. 
Fits returned with redoubled frequency and violence, 
the sane became demented or idiotic, and the most 
obviously British, losing the use of their mother 
tongue, swore with many gesticulatory sacrds that 
they had no English, as indeed they had none for 
naval purposes. Looking at the miserable, disease- 
ridden crew, the uninitiated spectator was moved to 
tears of pity. Not so the naval officer. In France, 
when a prisoner of war, learning French there with- 
out a master, he had heard a saying that he now 
recalled to some purpose : Vin de grain est plus doux 
que nest pas vin de presse — ''Willing duties are 
sweeter than those that are extorted." The punning 
allusion to the press had tickled his fancy and fixed 
the significant truism in his memory. From it he 
now took his cue and proceeded to man his ship. 

So at length the pressed man, in spite of all his 
ruses and protestations, was rated and absorbed into 
that vast agglomeration of men and ships known as 
the fleet. Here he underwent a speedy metamor- 
phosis. It was not that he lost his individuality and 
became a mere unit amongst thousands. Quite the 
contrary. Friends, creditors or next-of-kin, concoct- 
ing petitions on his behalf, set forth in heart-rending 
terms the many disabilities he suffered from, together 
with many he did not, and prayed, with a fervour 
often reaching no deeper than their pockets, that 
he might be restored without delay to his bereaved 
and destitute family. Across the bottom right-hand 
corner of these petitions, conveniently upturned for 
that purpose, the Admiralty scrawled its initial order : 


" Let his case be stated." The immediate effect of 
this expenditure of Admiralty ink was magical. It 
promoted the subject of the petition from the ranks, 
so to speak, and raised him to the dignity of a 
"State the Case Man." 

He now became a person of consequence. The 
kindliest inquiries were made after his health. The 
state of his eyes, the state of his limbs, the state of 
his digestion were all stated with the utmost minute- 
ness and prolixity. Reams of gilt-edged paper were 
squandered upon him ; and by the time his case had 
been duly stated, restated, considered, reconsidered 
and finally decided, the poor fellow had perhaps voy- 
aged round the world or by some mischance gone to 
the next. 

In the matter of exacting their pound of flesh 
the Lords Commissioners were veritable Shylocks. 
Neither supplications nor tears had power to move 
them, and though they sometimes relented, it was 
invariably for reasons of policy and in the best 
interests of the service. Men clearly shown to be 
protected they released. They could not go back 
upon their word unless some lucky quibble rendered 
it possible to traverse the obligation with honour. 
Unprotected subjects who were clearly unfit to eat 
the king's victuals they discharged — for substitutes. 

The principle underlying their Lordships' gracious 
acceptance of substitutes for pressed men was beauti- 
fully simple. If as a pressed man you were fit to 
serve, but unwilling, you were worth at least two 
able-bodied men ; if you were unfit, and hence unable 
to serve, you were worth at least one. This simple 
rule proved a source of great encouragement to the 

The Press-Gang, or English Liberty displayed. 


gangs, for however bad a man might be he was 
always worth a better. 

The extortions to which the Lords Commissioners 
lent themselves in this connection — three, and, as in 
the case of Joseph Sanders of Bristol,^ even four 
able-bodied men being exacted as substitutes — could 
only be termed iniquitous did we not know the dupli- 
city, roguery and deep cunning with which they had 
to cope. Upon the poor, indeed, the practice en- 
tailed great hardship, particularly when the home 
had to be sacrificed in order to obtain the discharge 
of the bread-winner who had been instrumental in 
getting it together ; but to the unscrupulous crimp 
and the shady attorney the sailor's misfortune 
brought only gain. Buying up *'raw boys," or Irish- 
men who "came over for reasons they did not wish 
known " — rascally persons who could be had for a 
song — they substituted these for seasoned men who 
had been pressed, and immediately, having got the 
latter in their power, turned them over to merchant 
ships at a handsome profit. At Hull, on the other 
hand, substitutes were sought in open market. The 
bell-man there cried a reward for men to go in that 

Even when the pressed man had procured his 
substitutes and obtained his coveted discharge, his 
liberty was far from assured. In theory exempt 
from the press for a period of at least twelve months, 
he was in reality not only liable to be re-pressed at 
any moment, but to be subjected to that process as 
often as he chose to free himself and the gang to 

^ Ad. I. 1534 — Capt. Barker, 4 Jan. 1805, and endorsement. 

2 Ad. I. 1439— George Crowle, Esq., M.P. for Hull, 28 Dec. 1739. 


take him. A Liverpool youth named William Crick 
a lad with expectations to the amount of " near 
;^4000," was in this way pressed and discharged by 
substitute three times in quick succession/ Intend- 
ing substitutes themselves not infrequently suffered 
the same fate ere they could carry out their intention.^ 
The discharging of a pressed man whose petition 
finally succeeded did not always prove to be the 
eminently simple matter it would seem. Time and 
tide waited for no man, least of all for the man who 
had the misfortune to be pressed, and in the interval 
between his appeal and the order for his release his 
ship, as already hinted, had perhaps put half the 
circumference of the globe between him and home ; 
or when the crucial moment arrived, and he was 
summoned before his commander to learn the gratify- 
ing Admiralty decision, he made his salute in 
batches of two, three or even four men, each of 
whom protested vehemently that he was the original 
and only person to whom the order applied. An 
amusing attempt at "coming Cripplegate " in this 
manner occurred on board the Lennox in 171 1. A 
woman, who gave her name as Alice Williams, 
having petitioned for the release of her "brother," 
one John Williams, a pressed man then on board that 
ship, succeeded in her petition, and orders were sent 
down to the commander, Capt. Bennett, to give the 
man his discharge. He proceeded to do so, but to his 
amazement discovered, first, that he had no less than 
four John Williamses on board, all pressed men ; 

^ Ad. I. 579 — Rear-Admiral Child, 8 Aug. 1799. 
^ Ad. I. 1439 — Lieut. Leaver, 5 Jan. 1739-40, and numerous in- 


second, that while each of the four claimed to be the 
man in question, three of the number had no sister, 
while the fourth confessed to one whose name was 
not Alice but " Percilly " ; and, after long and patient 
investigation, third, that one of them had a wife 
named Alice, who, he being a foreigner domiciled by 
marriage, had ''tould him she would gett him cleare" 
should he chance to fall into the hands of the press- 
gang. In this she failed, for he was kept/ 

Of the pressed man's smiling arrest for debts which 
he did not owe, and of his jocular seizure by sheriffs 
armed with writs of Habeas Corpus, the annals of his 
incorporation in the fleet furnish many instances. 
Arrest for fictitious debt was specially common. In 
every seaport town attorneys were to be found who 
made it their regular practice. Particularly was this 
true of Bristol. Good seamen were rarely pressed 
there for whom writs were not immediately issued on 
the score of debts of which they had never heard.^ 
To warrant such arrest the debt had to exceed twenty 
pounds, and service, when the pressed man was 
already on shipboard, was by the hands of the Water 

The writ of Habeas Corpus was, in effect, the only 
legal check it was possible to oppose to the impudent 
pretensions and high-handed proceedings of the gang. 
While H.M.S. Amaranth lay in dock in 1804 and 
her company were temporarily quartered on a hulk in 
Long Reach, two sheriff's officers, accompanied by a 
man named Cumberland, a tailor of Deptford, boarded 
the latter and served a writ on a seaman for debt. 

^ Ad. I. 1470— Capt. Bennett, 2 Dec. 171 1. 
2 Ad. I. 579— Admiral Philip, 5 Dec. 1801. 


The first lieutenant, who was in charge at the time, 
refused to let the man go, saying he would first send 
to his captain, then at the dock, for orders, which he 
accordingly did. The intruders thereupon went over 
the side, Cumberland ** speaking very insultingly." 
Just as the messenger returned with the captain's 
answer, however, they again put in an appearance, 
and the lieutenant hailed them and bade them come 
aboard. Cumberland complied. " I have orders from 
my captain," said the lieutenant, stepping up to him, 
" to press you." He did so, and had it not been that 
a writ of Habeas Corpus was immediately sworn out, 
the Deptford tailor would most certainly have ex- 
changed his needle for a marlinespike.^ 

Provocative as such redemptive measures were, 
and designedly so, they were as a rule allowed to pass 
unchallenged. The Lords Commissioners regretted 
the loss of the men, but thought " perhaps it would be 
as well to let them go." ^ For this complacent attitude 
on the part of his captors the pressed man had reason 
to hold the Law Officers of the Crown in grateful 
remembrance. As early as 1755 they gave it as their 
opinion — too little heeded — that to bring any matter 
connected with pressing to judicial trial would be 
"very imprudent." Later, with the lesson of twenty-two 
years' hard pressing before their eyes, they went still 
further, for they then advised that a subject so conten- 
tious, not to say so ill-defined in law, should be kept, if 
not altogether, at least as much as possible out of court.^ 

1 Aii. I. 1532— Lieut. Collett, 13 Feb. 1804. 

2 Ad. 7. 302— Law Officers' Opinions, 1783-95, No. 24. 

* Ad. 7. 298— Law Officers' Opinions, 1733-56, No. 99 ; Ad. 7. 299 
— Law Officers' Opinions, 1756-77, No. 70. 



Not until the year 1833 did belated Nemesis overtake 
the press-gang. It died the unmourned victim of its 
own enormities, and the manner of its passing forms 
the by no means least interesting chapter in its extra- 
ordinary career. 

Summarising the causes, direct and indirect, which 
led to the final scrapping of an engine that had been 
mainly instrumental in manning the fleet for a hundred 
years and more, and without which, whatever its im- 
perfections, that fleet could in all human probability 
never have been manned at all, we find them to be 
substantially these : — 

(a) The demoralising effects of long-continued, 
violent and indiscriminate pressing upon the 
Fleet ; 

(d) Its injurious and exasperating effects upon 
Trade ; 

(c) Its antagonising effect upon the Nation ; and 

(d) Its enormous cost as compared with recruiting 

by the good- will of the People. 

Frederick the Great, it is related, being in one of 
his grim humours after the dearly bought victory of 


Czaslaw, invited the neighbouring peasantry to come 
and share the spoil of the carcases on the field of 
battle. They responded in great numbers ; whereupon 
he, surrounding them, pressed three hundred of the 
most promising and ** cloathed them immediately from 
the dead." ^ In this way, Ezekiel-like, he retrieved 
his losses ; but to the regiments so completed the 
addition of these resurrection recruits proved demoral- 
ising to a degree, notwithstanding the Draconic 
nature of the Prussian discipline. In like manner the 
discipline used in the British fleet, while not less 
drastic, failed conspicuously to counteract the dry-rot 
introduced and fostered by the press-gang. In its 
efforts to maintain the Navy, indeed, that agency came 
near to proving its ruin. 

On the most lenient survey of the recruits it 
furnished, it cannot be denied that they were in the 
aggregate a desperately poor lot, unfitted both 
physically and morally for the tremendous task of 
protecting an island people from the attacks of power- 
ful sea-going rivals. How bad they were, the 
epithets spontaneously applied to them by the out- 
raged commanders upon whom they were foisted 
abundantly prove. Witness the following, taken at 
random from naval captains' letters extending over 
a hundred years : — 

" Blackguards." 

** Sorry poor creatures that don't earn half the 

victuals they eat." 
" Sad, thievish creatures." 

^ State Papers Foreign^ Germany^ vol. cccxl. — Robinson to Hyndford, 
31 May 1742. 


** Not a rag left but what was of such a nature as 
had to be destroyed." 

"150 on board, the greatest part of them sorry- 

" Poor ragged souls, and very small." 

*' Miserable poor creatures, not a seaman amongst 
them, and the fleet in the same condition." 

" Unfit for service, and a nuisance to the ship." 

** Never so ill-manned a ship since I have been 
at sea. The worst set I ever saw." 

** Twenty-six poor souls, but three of them sea- 
men. Ragged and half dead." 

*' Landsmen, boys, incurables and cripples. Sad 
wretches great part of them are." 

'* More fit for an hospital than the sea." 

'' All the ragg-tagg that can be picked up." 

In this last phrase, "All the rag-tag that can be 
picked up," we have the key to the situation ; for 
though orders to press *'no aged, diseased or infirm 
persons, nor boys," were sufficiently explicit, yet in 
order to swell the returns, and to appease in some 
degree the fleet's insatiable greed for men, the gangs 
raked in recruits with a lack of discrimination that for 
the better part of a century made that fleet the most 
gigantic collection of human freaks and derelicts under 
the sun. 

Billingsley, commander of the Ferme, receiving 
seventy pressed men to complete his complement in 
1708, discovers to his chagrin that thirteen are lame 
in the legs, five lame in the hands, and three almost 
blind. ^ Latham, commanding the Bristol^ on the 

^ Ad. I. 1469 — Capt. Billingsley, 5 May 1708. 


eve of sailing for the West Indies can muster only 
eighteen seamen amongst sixty-eight pressed men 
that day put on board of him. As for the rest, they 
are either sick, or too old or too young to be of 
service — " ragged wretches, bad of the itch, who have 
not the least pretensions to eat His Majesty's bread." 
Forty of the number had to be put ashore.^ Admiral 
Mostyn, boarding his flagship, the Monarch, ** never 
in his life saw such a crew," though the Monarch had 
an already sufficiently evil reputation in that respect, 
insomuch that whenever a scarecrow man-o'-war's 
man was seen ashore the derisive cry instantly went 
up: "There goes a Monarch V So hopelessly bad 
was the company in this instance, it was found 
impossible to carry the ship to sea. " I don't know 
where they come from," observes the Admiral, hot 
with indignation, ''but whoever was the officer who 
received them, he ought to be ashamed, for I never 
saw such except in the condemned hole at Newgate. 
I was three hours and a half mustering this scabby 
crew, and I should have imagined that the Scum of 
the Earth had been picked up for this ship."^ The 
vigorous protest prepares us for what Capt. Baird 
found on board the Duke a few years later. The 
pressed men there exhibited such qualifications for 
sea duty as ** fractured thigh-bone, idiocy, strained 
back and sickly, a discharged soldier, gout and sixty 
years old, rupture, deaf and foolish, fits, lame, 
rheumatic and incontinence of urine." ^ 

That most reprehensible practice, the pressing of 

^ Ad. I. i6i — Admiral Watson, 26 Feb. 1754. 

2 jifi I, 480 — Admiral Mostyn, rand 6 April 1755. 

3 Ad. I. 1490— Capt. Baird, 22 May 1759. 


cripples for naval purposes, would appear to have had 
its origin in the unauthorised extension of an order 
issued by the Lord High Admiral, in 1704, to the 
effect that in the appointment of cooks to the Navy 
the Board should give preference to persons so 
afflicted. For the pressing of boys there existed 
even less warrant. Yet the practice was common, 
so much so that when, during the great famine of 
1800, large numbers of youths flocked into Poole in 
search of the bread they could not obtain in the 
country, the gangs waylaid them and reaped a rich 
harvest. Two hundred was the toll on this occasion. 
As all were in a "very starving, ragged, filthy 
condition," the gangsmen stripped them, washed 
them thoroughly in the sea, clad them in second-hand 
clothing from the quay-side shops, and giving each 
one a knife, a spoon, a comb and a bit of soap, sent 
them on board the tenders contented and happy. ^ 
These lads were of course a cut above the "scum of 
the earth " so vigorously denounced by Admiral 
Mostyn. Beginning their career as powder-monkeys, 
a few years' licking into shape transformed them, as 
a rule, into splendid fighting material. 

The utter incapacity of the human refuse dumped 
into the fleet is justly stigmatised by one indignant 
commander, himself a patient long-sufferer in that 
respect, as a "scandalous abuse of the service." Six 
of these poor wretches had not the strength of one 
man. They could not be got upon deck in the night, 
or if by dint of the rope's-end they were at length 
routed out of their hammocks, they immediately 
developed the worst symptoms of the "waister" — 

^ Ad. I. 579 — Capt. Boyle, 2 June 1801. 


seasickness and fear of that which is high.^ Bruce, 
encountering dirty weather on the Irish coast, when 
in command of the Hawke, out of thirty-two pressed 
men *' could not get above seven to go upon a yard 
to reef his courses," but was obliged to order his 
warrant officers and master aloft on that duty.^ 
Belitha, of the Scipio, had but one man aboard him, 
out of a crew of forty-one, who was competent to 
stand his trick at the wheel ;^ Bethell, of the Phoenix^ 
had many who had "never seen a gun fired in their 
lives " ; * and Adams, of the Bird-in-hand, learnt the 
fallacy of the assertion that that vara avis is worth 
two in the bush. Mustered for drill in small-arms, 
his men "knew no more how to handle them than 
a child." ^ For all their knowledge of that useful 
exercise they might have been Sea-Fencibles. 

Yet while ships were again and again prevented 
from putting to sea because, though their complements 
were numerically complete, they had only one or no 
seaman on board, and hence were unable to get their 
anchors or make sail ; ^ while Bennett, of the Lennox, 
when applied to by the masters of eight outward- 
bound East-India ships for the loan of two hundred 
and fifty men to enable them to engage the French 
privateers by whom they were held up in the river 
of Shannon, dared not lend a single hand lest the 
pressed men, who formed the greater part of his crew, 

* Ad. I. 1471— Capt. Billop, 26 Oct. 1712. 

* Ad. I. 1477— Capt. Bruce, 6 Oct. 1741. 

* Ad. I. 1482— Capt. Belitha, 15 July 1746. 

* Ad. I. 1490— Capt. Bethell, 21 Aug. 1759. 

* Ad. I. 1440— Capt. Adams, 7 Oct. 1744. 

^ Ad. I. 1478— Capt. Boys, 14 April 1742; Ad. i. 1512— Capt. 
Bayly, 21 July 1796, and Captains' \.^\X.txs, passim. 


should rise and run away with the ship ; ^ Ambrose, 
of the Rupert, cruising off Cape Machichaco with 
a crew of ''miserable poor wretches" whom he feared 
could be of *' no manner of use or service " to him, 
after a short but sharp engagement of only an hour's 
duration captured, with the loss of but a single man, 
the largest privateer sailing out of San Sebastian — 
the Duke of Vandome, of twenty-six carriage guns 
and two hundred and two men, of whom twenty-nine 
were killed ; ^ and Capt. Amherst, encountering a 
heavy gale in Barnstable Pool, off Appledore, would 
have lost his ship, the low-waisted, over-masted 
Mortar sloop, had it not been for the nine men he 
was so lucky as to impress shortly before the gale.* 
Anson regarded pressed men with suspicion. When 
he sailed on his famous voyage round the world his 
ships contained only sixty-seven ; but with his 
complement of five hundred reduced by sickness to 
two hundred and one, he was glad to add forty of 
those undesirables to their number out of the India- 
men at Wampoo.* These, however, were seamen 
such as the gangs did not often pick up in England, 
where, as we have seen, the able seaman who was 
not fully protected avoided the press as he would 
a lee shore. 

In addition to the sweepings of the roads and 
slums, there were in His Majesty's ships many who 
trod the decks "wide betwixt the legs, as if they had 
the gyves on." Peculiar to the seafaring man, the 

1 Ad. I. 1499— Capt. Bennett, 22 Sept. 1779. 

2 Ad. I. 1439 — Capt. Ambrose, 7 July and 26 Sept. 1741. 
^ Ad. I. 1440 — Capt. Amherst, 12 Dec. 1744. 

* Ad. I. 1439— Capt. Anson, 18 Sept. 1740, and 7 Dec. 1742. 


tailor and the huckstering Jew, the gait of these 
individuals, who belonged mostly to the sailor class, 
was strongly accentuated by an adventitious circum- 
stance having no necessary connection with Israelitish 
descent, the sartorial board or the rolling deep. 
They were in fact convicts who had but recently 
shed their irons, and who walked wide from force 
of habit. Reasons of policy rather than of mercy 
explained their presence in the fleet. The prisons 
of the country, numerous and insanitary though they 
were, could neither hold them all nor kill them ; 
America would have no more of them ; and penal 
settlements, those later garden cities of a harassed 
government, were as yet undreamt of. In these 
circumstances reprieved and pardoned convicts were 
bestowed in about equal proportions, according to 
their calling and election, upon the army and the navy. 
The practice was one of very respectable antiquity 
and antecedents. By a certain provision of the 
Feudal System a freeman who had committed a 
felony, or become hopelessly involved in debt, might 
purge himself of either by becoming a serf. So, at 
a later date, persons in the like predicament were 
permitted to exchange their fetters, whether of debt 
or iron, for the dear privilege of ''spilling every drop 
of blood in their bodies " ^ on behalf of the sovereign 
whose clemency they enjoyed. Broken on the wheel 
of naval discipline, they ''did very well in deep 
water." Nearer land they were given, like the jail- 
birds they were, to "hopping the twig."^ 

^ Ad. I. 5125— Petition of the Convicts on board the Stanislaus 
hulk, Woolwich, 18 May 1797. 

2 Ad. I. 2733— Capt. Young, 21 March 1776. 


The insolvent debtor, who in the majority of cases 
had studied his pleasures more than his constitution, 
was perhaps an even less desirable recruit than his 
cousin the emancipated convict. In his letters to the 
Navy Board, Capt. Aston, R.N., relates how, im- 
mediately after the passing of the later Act ^ for the 
freeing of such persons from their financial fetters, he 
" gave constant attendance for almost two years at 
the sittings of the Courts of Sessions in London and 
Surrey," lying in wait there for such debtors as should 
choose the sea. From the Queen's Bench Prison, 
the Clink, Marshalsea, Borough Compter, Poultry 
Compter, Wood Street Compter, Ludgate Prison 
and the Fleet, he obtained in that time a total of 
one hundred and thirty-two, to whom in every case 
the prest-shilling was paid. They were dear at the 
price. Bankrupt in pocket, stamina and health, they 
cumbered the ships to the despair of commanders and 
were never so welcome as when they ran away.^ 

The responsibility for jail-bird recruiting did not 
of course rest with the gangs. They saw the shady 
crew safe on board ship, that was all. Yet the odium 
of the thing was theirs. For not only did association 
with criminals lower the standard of pressing as the 
gangs practised it, it heightened the general disrepute 
in which they were held. For an institution whose 
hold upon the affections of the people was at the bes^ 
positively negative, this was a serious matter. Every 
convict whom the gang safeguarded consequently 
drove another nail in the coffin preparing for it. 

The first and most lasting effect of the wholesale 

^ 4 & 5 Anne, cap. 6. 

^ Ad. I. 1436 — Letters of Capt. Aston, 1704-5. 


pumping of sewage into the fleet was to taint the 
ships with a taint far more deadly than mere inepti- 
tude. A spirit of ominous restlessness prevailed. 
Slackness was everywhere observable, coupled with 
incipient insubordination which no discipline, how- 
ever severe, could eradicate or correct. At critical 
moments the men could with difficulty be held to 
their duty. To hold them to quarters in '97, when 
engaging the enemy off Brest, the rattan and the 
rope's-end had to be unsparingly used.^ In no 
circumstances were they to be trusted. Given the 
slightest opening, they *' ran " like water from a 
sieve. To counteract these dangerous tendencies the 
Marines were instituted. Drafted into the ships in 
thousands, they checked in a measure the surface 
symptoms of disaffection, but left the disease itself 
untouched. The fact was generally recognised, and 
it was no uncommon circumstance, when the number 
of pressed men present in a ship was large in propor- 
tion to the unpressed element, for both officers and 
marines to y/alk the deck day and night armed, 
fearful lest worse things should come upon them.^ 
What they anticipated was the mutiny of individual 
crews. But a greater calamity than this was in store 
for them. 

In the wholesale mutinies at Spithead and the 
Nore the blow fell with appalling suddenness, not- 
withstanding the fact that in one form or another it 
had been long foreseen. Fifty-five years had elapsed 
since Vernon, scenting danger from the existing mode 

^ Ad. I. 5125— Petition of the Company of H. M.S. Nymph^ 1797. 
* Ad. I. 1499 — Capt. Bennett, 22 Sept. 1799, ^^^^ Captains' Letters, 


of manning the fleet, had first sounded the alarm. 
He dreaded, he told the Lords Commissioners in so 
many words, the consequences that must sooner or 
later ensue from adherence to the press.^ Though 
the utterance of one gifted with singularly clear 
prevision, the warning passed unheeded. Had it 
been made public, it would doubtless have met with 
the derision with which the voice of the national 
prophet is always hailed. Veiled as it was in service 
privacy, it moved their Lordships to neither comment 
nor action. Action, indeed, was out of the question. 
The Commissioners were helpless in the grip of a 
system from which, so far as human sagacity could 
then perceive, there was no way of escape. Let its 
issue be what it might, they could no more replace 
or reconstruct it than they could build ships of 

Other warnings were not wanting. For some 
years before the catastrophic happenings of '97 there 
flowed in upon the Admiralty a thin but steady stream 
of petitions from the seamen of the fleet, each of them 
a rude echo of Vernon's sapient warning. To these, 
coming as they did from an unconsidered source, 
little if any significance was attached. Beyond the 
most perfunctory inquiry, in no case to be made 
public, they received scant attention. The sailor, it 
was thought, must have his grievances if he would 
be happy ; and petitions were the recognised line for 
him to air them on. They were accordingly relegated 
to that limbo of distasteful and quickly forgotten things, 
their Lordships' pigeon-holes. 

Yet there was amongst these documents at least 

^ Ad. I. 578 — Vice-Admiral Vernon, 27 Jan. 1742-3. 


one which should have given the Heads of the Navy 
pause for serious thought. It was the petition of the 
seamen of H.M.S. Shannon,^ in which there was 
conveyed a threat that afterwards, when the mutiny 
at the Nore was at its height, under the leadership 
of a pressed man whose coadjutors were mainly 
pressed men, came within an ace of resolving itself 
in action. That threat concerned the desperate 
expedient of carrying the revolted ships into an 
enemy's port, and of there delivering them up. 
Had this been done — and only the Providence that 
watches over the destinies of nations prevented it — 
the act would have brought England to her knees. 

At a time like this, when England's worst enemies 
were emphatically the press-gangs which manned her 
fleet with the riff-raff of the nation and thus made 
national disaster not only possible but hourly imminent, 
the ** old stander " and the volunteer were to her 
Navy what salt is to the sea, its perpetual salvation. 
Such men inculcated an example, created an esprit 
de corps, that infected even the vagrant and the jail- 
bird, to say nothing of the better-class seaman, taken 
mainly by gangs operating on the water, who was 
often content, when brought into contact with loyal 
men, to settle down and do his best for king and 
country. Amongst the pressed men, again, desertion 
and death made for the survival of the fittest, and in 
this residuum there was not wanting a certain savour. 
Subdued and quickened by man-o'-war discipline, 
they developed a dogged resolution, a super-capacity 
not altogether incompatible with degeneracy ; and to 

"^ Ad. I. 5125 — Petition of the Ship's Company of the Shannon^ 
16 June 1796. 


crown all, the men who officered the resolute if 
disreputable crew were men in whose blood the salt 
of centuries tingled, men unrivalled for sea-sagacity, 
initiative and pluck. If they could not uphold the 
honour of the flag with the pressed man's unqualified 
aid, they did what was immeasurably greater. They 
upheld it in spite of him. 

Upon the trade of the nation the injury inflicted 
by the press-gang is rightly summed up in littles. 
Every able seaman, every callow apprentice taken 
out of or forcibly detained from a merchant vessel 
was, ipso facto, a minute yet irretrievably substantial 
loss to commerce of one kind or another. Trade, it 
is true, did not succumb in consequence. Possessed 
of marvellous recuperative powers, she did not even 
languish to any perceptible degree. Nevertheless, 
the detriment was there, a steadily cumulative factor, 
and at the end of any given period of pressing the 
commerce of the nation, emasculated by these con- 
tinuous if infinitesimal abstractions from its vitality, 
I was substantially less in bulk, substantially less in 
' pounds sterling, than if it had been allowed to run its 
course unhindered. 

British in name, but Teutonic in its resentments, 
trade came to regard these continual '* pin-pricks" as 
an intolerable nuisance. It was not so much the loss 
that aroused her anger as the constant irritation she 
was subjected to. This she keenly resented, and the 
stream of her resentment, joining forces with its 
confluents the demoralisation of the Navy through 
pressing, the excessive cost of pressing and the 
antagonising effects of pressing upon the nation at 
large, contributed in no small degree to that final 


supersession of the press-gang which was in essence, 
if not in name, the beginning of Free Trade. 

To the people the impress was as an axe laid at 
the root of the tree. There was here no question, as 
with trade, of the mere loss of hands who could be 
replaced. Attacking the family in the person of its 
natural supporter and protector, the octopus system 
of which the gangs were the tentacles struck at the 
very foundations of domestic life and brought to 
thousands of households a poverty as bitter and a 
grief as poignant as death. 

If the people were slow to anger under the 
infliction it was because, in the first place, the gang 
had its advocates who, though they could not extol 
its virtues, since it had none, were yet able, and that 
with no small measure of success, to demonstrate to 
a people as insular in their prejudices as in their 
habitat that, but for the invincible Navy which the 
gang maintained for their protection, the hereditary 
enemy, the detested French, would most surely come 
and compel them one and all to subsist upon a diet 
of frogs. What could be seriously urged against the 
gang in face of an argument such as that ? 

Patriotism, moreover, glowed with ardent flame. 
Fanned to twofold heat by natural hatred of the 
foreigner and his insolent challenge of insular supe- 
riority, it blinded the people to the truth that liberty of 
the subject is in reality nothing more than freedom 
from oppression. So, with the gang at their very 
doors, waiting to snatch away their husbands, their 
fathers and their sons, they carolled '' Rule Britannia" 
and congratulated themselves on being a free people. 
The situation was unparalleled in its sardonic humour ; 


and, as if this were not enough, the " Noodle of 
Newcastle," perceiving vacuously that something was 
still wanting, supplied the bathetic touch by giving 
out that the king, God bless him ! could never prevail 
upon himself to break through the sacred liberties of 
his people save on the most urgent occasions/ 

The process of correcting the defective vision of 
the nation was as gradual as the acquisition of the 
sea-power the nation had set as its goal, and as 
painful. In both processes the gang participated 
largely. To the fleet it acted as a rude feeder ; to 
the people as a ruder specialist. Wielding the cut- 
lass as its instrument, it slowly and painfully hewed 
away the scales from their eyes until it stood 
visualised for what it really was — the most atrocious 
agent of oppression the world has ever seen. For 
the operation the people should have been grateful. 
The nature of the thing they had cherished so blindly 
filled them with rage and incited them to violence. 

Two events now occurred to seal the fate of the 
gang and render its final supersession a mere matter 
of time rather than of debate or uncertainty. The 
mutiny at the Nore brought the people face to face 
with the appalling risks attendant on wholesale 
pressing, while the war with America, incurred for 
the sole purpose of upholding the right to press, 
taught them the lengths to which their rulers were 
still prepared to go in order to enslave them. In 
the former case their sympathies, though with the 
mutineers, were frozen at the fountain-head by fear of 
invasion and that supposititious diet of frogs. In the 
latter, as in the ancient quarrel between Admiralty 

^ Newcastle Papers — Newcastle to Yorke, 27 Feb. 1749-50. 


and Trade, they went out to the party who not 
only abstained from pressing but paid the higher 

While the average cost of 'listing a man "volun- 
teerly " rarely exceeded the modest sum of 30s., the 
expense entailed through recruiting him by means of 
the press-gang ranged from 3s. gd. per head in 1570^ 
tO;^ii4 in 1756. Between these extremes his cost 
fluctuated in the most extraordinary manner. At 
Weymouth, in 1762, it was at least ;^ioo; at Deal, 
in 1805, £>Z'^ odd; at Poole, in the same year, £%o} 
From 1756 the average steadily declined until in 
1795 it touched its eighteenth century minimum of 
about £^? A sharp upward tendency then developed, 
and in the short space of eight years it soared again 
to ;^20. It was at this figure that Nelson, perhaps 
the greatest naval authority of his time, put it in 

Up to this point we have considered only the 
prime cost of the pressed man. A secondary factor 
must now be introduced, for when you had got your 
man at an initial cost of ;^20 — a cost in itself out of 
all proportion to his value — you could never be sure 
of keeping him. Nelson calculated that during the war 
immediately preceding 1803 forty-two thousand sea- 
men deserted from the fleet.* Assuming, with him, 
that every man of this enormous total was either a 

1 state Papers Domestic^ Elizabeth^ vol. Ixxiii. f. 38 : Estimate of 
Charge for Pressing 400 Mariners, 1570. 

2 London Chronicle^ 16-18 March, 1762 ; Ad. i. 581— Admiral 
Berkeley, 14 Feb. and 5 Aug. 1805. 

^ Ad. I. 579 — Average based on Admirals' Reports on Rendezvous, 

* Ad. I. 580— Memorandum on the State of the Fleet, 1803. 



pressed man or had been procured at the cost of a 
pressed man, the loss entailed upon the nation by their 
desertion represented an outlay of ;^840,ooo for raising 
them in the first instance, and, in the second, a further 
outlay of ;^840,ooo for replacing them. 

In this estimate there is, however, a substantial 
error ; for, approaching the question from another 
point of view, let us suppose, as we may safely do 
without overstraining the probabilities of the case, 
that out of every three men pressed at least one ran 
from his rating. Now the primary cost of pressing 
three men on the ;f 20 basis being ;^6o, it follows 
that in order to obtain their ultimate cost to the 
country we must add to that sum the outlay incurred 
in pressing another man in lieu of the one who ran. 
The total cost of the three men who ultimately 
remain to the fleet consequently works out at ;^8o ; 
the cost of each at £26, 13s. 4d. Hence Nelsons 
forty-two thousand deserters entailed upon the nation 
an actual expenditure, not of ^1,680,000, but of nearly 
two and a quarter millions. 

Another fact that emerges from a scrutiny of 
these remarkable figures is this. Whenever the 
number of volunteer additions to the fleet increased, 
the cost of pressing increased in like ratio ; whenever 
the number of volunteers declined, the pressed man 
became proportionally cheaper. Periods in which 
the pressed man was scarce and dear thus synchronise 
with periods when the volunteer was plentiful ; but 
scarcity of volunteers, reacting upon the gangs, and 
conducing to their greater activity, brought in pressed 
men in greater numbers in proportion to expenditure 
and so reduced the cost per head. In this logical 


though at first sight bewildering interrelation of the 
laws of supply and demand, we have in a nutshell 
the whole case for the cost of pressing as against the 
gang. Taking one year with another the century 
through, the impress service, on a moderate estimate, 
employed enough able-bodied men to man a first-rate 
ship of the line, and absorbed at least enough money 
to maintain her, while the average number of men 
raised, taking again one year with another, rarely if 
ever exceeded the number of men engaged in obtain- 
ing them. With tranquillity at length assured to the 
country, with trade in a state of high prosperity, the 
shipping tonnage of the nation rising by leaps and 
bounds and the fleet reduced to an inexigent peace 
footing, why incur the ruinous expense of pressing 
the seaman when, as was now the case, he could be 
had for the asking or the making ? 

For Peace brought in her train both change and 
opportunity. The frantic dumping of all sorts and 
conditions of men into the fleet ceased. Necessity 
no longer called for it. No enemy hovered in the 
offing, to be perpetually outmanoeuvred or instantly 
engaged. Until that enemy could renew its strength, 
or time should call another into being, the mastery 
of the seas, the dear prize of a hundred years of 
strenuous struggle, remained secure. Our ships, 
maintained nevertheless as efficient fighting-machines, 
became schools of leisure wherein — a thing impos- 
sible amid the perpetual storm and stress of war — the 
young blood of the nation could be more gradually 
inured to the sea and tuned to fighting-pitch. 
Science had not yet linked hands with warfare. 
Steam, steel, the ironclad, the super- Dreadnought 


and the devastating cordite gun were still in the 
womb of the future ; but the keels of a newer fleet 
were nevertheless already on the slips, and with the 
old order the press-gang, now for ever obsolete, went 
the way of all things useless. 

Its memory still survives. Those who despair of 
our military system, or of our lack of it, talk of con- 
scription. They alone forget. A people who for 
a hundred years patiently endured conscription in its 
most cruel form will never again suffer it to be lightly 
inflicted upon them. 



Dear Nepean, — I enclose a little project for 
destroying the Enemy's Flatboats if they venture 
over to our Coast, which you may shew, if you please, 
to your Sea Lords as coming from some anonymous 
correspondent. If they can improve upon it so as to 
make it useful, I shall be glad of it ; and if they think 
it good for nothing, and throw it in the fire, there is 
no harm done. As the conveying an Army must 
require a very great number of Boats, which must 
be very near each other, if many such vessels as I 
propose should get - ^ong them, they must necessarily 
commit great havoc. I cannot ascertain whether the 
blocks or logs of wood would be strong enough to 
throw the shot without bursting, or whether they 
would not throw the shot though they should burst. 
I think they would not burst, and so do some Officers 
of Artillery here ; but that might be ascertained by 
experiment at any time. This sort of Fire-vessel 
will have the advantage of costing very little ; and of 
being of no service to the Enemy should it fall into 
their hands. 


Lewes, 14 Aug. 1803. 




** The success of an attempt to land an Army on 
an Enemy's Coast, whose Army is prepared to 
prevent it, will depend in a great degree on the 
regularity of the order in which the Boats, or Vessels, 
are arranged, that carry the Troops on Shore ; every- 
thing therefore which contributes to the breaking of 
that order will so far contribute to render success 
more doubtful ; especially if, in breaking the order, 
some of the Boats or Vessels are destroyed. For this 
purpose Fireships well managed will be found very 
useful ; I should therefore think that, at all the King's 
Ports, and at all places where the Enemy may be 
expected to attempt a landing with Ships of War 
or other large Vessels, considerable quantities of 
materials for fitting Fireships according to the latest 
method should be kept ready to be put on board any 
small Vessels on the Enemy's approach ; but, as such 
Vessels would have little or no effect on Gunboats or 
Flatboats, machines might be made for the purpose 
of destroying them, by shot, and by explosion. The 
Shot should be large, but as they will require to be 
thrown but a short distance, and will have only thin- 
sided Vessels to penetrate. Machines strong enough 
to resist the effort of the small quantity of Powder 
necessary to throw them may probably be made of 
wood ; either by making several chambers in one 
thick Block, as No. i , or one chamber at each end of 
a log as No. 2, which may be used either separately, 
or fastened together. The Vents should communicate 
with each other by means of quick Match, which 

10 4 


— TT py" 77 — T 

^f; -f/ ^'^ I 






Ci>L _i!^ 

Admiral Young's Torpedo. 
From the Original Drawing at the Public Record Office. 

• • • 






• t • 


should be very carefully covered to prevent its sus- 
taining damage, or being moved by things carried 
about. Such Machines, properly loaded, may be kept 
in Fishing boats or other small vessels near the parts 
of the Coast where the Enemy may be expected to 
land ; or in secure places, ready to be put on board 
when the Enemy are expected. The Chambers should 
be cut horizontally, and the Machine should be so 
placed in the Vessel as to have them about level with 
the surface of the water ; under the Machine should 
be placed a considerable quantity of Gunpowder ; and 
over it, large Stones, and bags of heavy shingle, and 
the whole may be covered with fishing nets, or any 
articles that may happen to be on board. Several 
fuses, or trains of Match, should communicate with 
the Machine, and with the powder under it, so 
managed as to ensure those which communicate with 
the Machine taking effect upon the others, that 
the shot may be thrown before the Vessel is blown 
up. The Match, or Fuses, should be carefully con- 
cealed to prevent their being seen if the Vessel should 
be boarded. ... If these Vessels are placed in the 
front of the Enemy's Line, and not near the 
extremities of it, it would be scarcely possible for 
them to avoid the effects of the explosion unless, 
from some of them exploding too soon, the whole 
armament should stop. Every Machine would prob- 
ably sink the Boat on each side of it, and so do 
considerable damage to others with the shot ; and 
would kill and wound many men by the explosion 
and the fall of the stones. ... As the success of 
these Vessels will depend entirely upon their not 
being suspected by the Enemy, the utmost secrecy 


must be observed in preparing the Machines and 
sending them to the places where they are to be kept. 
A few confidential men only should be employed to 
make them, and they should be so covered as to 
prevent any suspicion of their use, or of what they 

Printed by Morrison & Gibb Limited, Edinburgh 




Adams, Capt., 133, 134. 

Admiral Spry tender, 303. 

Adventure^ H.M.S., 234. 

Ages below eighteen and over fifty- 
five exempt, 84, 85. 

Alcock, Henry, Mayor of Water- 
ford, 196, 21.7, 218. 

Alms, Capt., 182, 183. 

Afnaranth, H.M.S., 309. 

Ambrose, Capt., 317. 

Amherst, Capt., 317. 

Amphitrite, H.M.S., 34. 

Andover, the press-gang at, 179. 

Angksea, H.M.S., 234. 

Anne, Queen, impresses foreign 
seamen, 13. 
arms of press-gang under, 73. 
drummers and fifers pressed for 

navy in her reign, 241. 
sailors unwilling to serve, 28. 

Anson, Admiral Lord, 104. 

Anthony, John, pressed with two 
protections on him, 102. 

Appledore, press-gang at, 72, 290. 

Apprentices, exempt from impress- 
ment only in some circum- 
stances, 85, 86. 
in North - country pressed be- 
cause their indentures bore 
Scotch 14s. stamp instead of 
English 15s., 102. 

Archer, Capt, 241. 

Arms of the press-gang, 72, 7^. 

Assurance, H.M.S., 35. 

Aston, Capt., 319. 

Atkinson, Lieut., 221. 

Ayscough, Capt., 291. 

Baily, James, a ferryman, pressed 

for his inactivity, 242. 
Baird, Capt., 314. 
Balchen, Capt., 104, 234. 

Ball, Capt., 198. 

Banyan days, 38. 

Bargemen impressed in thou- 
sands, 92. 

Barker, Capt., regulating officer at 
Bristol, 94, 288. 
midshipman, 302. 

Barking, the press-gang at, 209, 

Barnicle, William, 247. 

Barnsley, Lieut., 208. 

Barrington, Capt., 260. 

BathjBristol gang's fruitless attempt 
at, 161. 

Bawdsey, 243. 

Beaufort, East Indiaman, 126. 

Beecher, Capt., 67, 208. 

Bennett, Capt., 59, 60, 163, 308, 

Bertie, Capt., 26. 

Bethell, Capt., paid damages for 
wrongfully impressing, 238, 

Bettesworth, John, claims privi- 
lege of granting private pro- 
tections to Ryde and Ports- 
mouth ferrymen, 105. 

Biggen, Charles, 289. 

Billingsley, Capt., 119, 313. 

Bingham, William, 204. 

Birchall, Lieut., 208, 220. 

Bird-in-hand, H.M.S., 316. 

Birmingham, sham gangs at, 67. 

Black Book of the Admiralty, 

Blackstone, Sir W., 15, 16. 
Black water, men working turf boats 

on, not exempt, 95. 
Blanche, H.M.S., 35. 
Blear-eyed Moll, 263. 
'Blonde, H.M.S., 192. 
f Boats for the press-gang, 72. 



Boat steercrs on whalers exempt 
from impressment, 90. 

Boatswains, conditions of exemp- 
tion, 87-9. 

Bonetta sloop, 135, 303. 

Boscawen, Capt., 98, 109, 1 10. 

Boston, Mass., 215. 
s^ounty system, the, 22. 

Bowen, Capt., 184. 

Box, Lieut, 192. 

Boys, Capt., 147, 216. 

Brace, Lieut., 246. 

Bradley, Lieut., 182. 

Brawn, Capt., 209. 

Breedon, Lieut., 182. 

Brenton, Capt. Jahleel, afterwards 
Vice-Admiral, 59,214, 269 ,275. 

Brenton, E. P., Naval History, 44.' 

Brenton, Lieut., 195. 

Brereton, Capt., 238. 

Brett, Capt., 1 10, 234. 
v'Bridges a favourite haunt of the 
press-gang, 177. 

Brighton, the press-gang at, 18 1-3, 

Bristol, the press-gang at, 81, 83, 
94, 114, 162, 246, 249, 262, 
272, 288. 

Bristol jail as press-room, 281. 

Bristol, H.M.S., 313. 

Britannia trading vessel, three 
of the crew shot in resisting 
• the press-gang, 229 ; the ship 
captured and taken to port, 
the affair not within the 
coroner's purview, the bodies 
buried at sea, 230 ; court- 
martial acquits officers, 23 1 . 

Brixham, the press-gang at, 114. 

Broadfoot case, the, 205, 206. 

Broadstairs fishermen, 129. 
the press-gang at, 176. 

Bromley, Capt. Sir Robert, 242. 

Bullard, Richard, a fiddler per- 
suaded to go to Woolwich to 
play and for payment was 
handed to the gang, 242. 

Bull-Dog sloop, 274. 

Burchett, Josiah, Observations on 
the Navy, 19. 

Burrows, Sam, 251. 

Butler, Capt., 189, 190. 

Byron, Lord, 57. 

Calahan, a gangsman, killed in 
attempting an arrest, 206. 

Cambridge bargemen, press-gang 
among, 92. 

Campbell, Admiral, 274. 

Cape Breton, 51. 

Caradine, Samuel, 287, 288. 

Carey, Rev. Lucius, 251. 

Carmarthen, Admiral the Marquis 
of, 197. 

Carolina, 51. 

Carpenters, conditions of exemp- 
tion, 87, 89. 
on warships on coast of Scot- 
land could be replaced by 
shipwrights pressed from the 
yards, 88. 

Carrying the ship up, 124-9. 

Cartel ships, 141. 

Castle, William, an alien, impressed 
on his honeymoon, 81, 262. 

Castleford, the press-gang at, 164. 

Cawsand safe from the press-gang, 

Cecil,|William, Lord Burleigh, 96, 97. 

Centurion, H.M.S., Anson's flag- 
ship, whose crew on their 
return had life-protection from 
the press, 104. 

Chaplains, 35-7. 

Charles li., 36, 63. 

Chatham, crimpage at, 50. 

Chatham, H.M.S., 209. 

Chester, the press-gang, at 58, 163, 
219, 220, 251, 290. 

Chevrette corvette, 274. 

Clapp, Midshipman, 223. 

Clark, George, 247. 

Clephen, James, 274. 

Clincher gun-hrig, 141. 

Cockburn, Bailie, of Leith, 215. 

Cogbourne's electuary, 41. 

Coke, Sir E., 15. 

Collingwood, Admiral Lord, 59. 
Lieut., 237. 

Colvill, Admiral Lord, 47. 

Colville, Lieut., 301, 302. 

Convoys, 132, 146. 

Conyear, John, 242. 

Cooper, Josh, 66. 

Cork, crimpage at, 50, 164. 
the press-gang at, 72, 141, 163, 
164, 165. 



Comet bomb ship, 128. 
Cornwall, the press-gang in, 157. 
Coversack, safe from the press- 
gang, 158. 
Coventry, Mr. Commissioner, 78. 
Coventry, sham gangs at, 67. 
Cowes, press-gang at, 56, 180. 
Crabb, Henry, 234. 
vCrews depleted by the press-gang, 

J Crick, William, 308. 
'' Crimps, 48-50, 151, 164. 
as sham gangsmen, 67. 
Cromer, the suspicions of the in- 
habitants bring the press-gang 
to take a noted Russian, 246. 
Crown Colonies, desertions in, 

Croydon, the press-gang around, 

Cruickshank, John, chaplain, 35. 
Culverhouse, Capt., 248. 
Customs, Board of, loi. 

Dansays, Capt., 134. 
Danton, Midshipman, 223. 
Darby, Capt., 69. 
Dartmouth^ H.M.S., 36, 37. 
Dartmouth, press-gang at, 72. 
Davidson, Samuel, of Newcastle, 

applies for life protection, 104. 
" DD," discharged dead, in muster 

books against names of persons 

deceased, 207. 
Deal, press-gang at, 56,60, 62, 174, 

196-8, 217, 255-6. 
cutters, 117. 
T^eath of sailor in resisting impress 

"accidental," 227. 
Debusk, John, shot by the press- 
gang on the Britannia^ 229. 
Dent, Capt., 197. 
Deptford, the press-gang at, 189, 

Desertion from the Navy, 46-9, 

259, 260. 
Devonshire^ H.M.S., 197. 
Dipping the flag, 239-40. 
Director^ H.M.S., 275. 
Discipline in the Navy, 30-5. 
Disinfecting a ship, 37. 
Dispatch sloop, 216. 
Dolan, Edward, 153. 

Dominion and Laws of the Sea. 

See Justice, A. 
Dorsetshire^ H.M.S., 189-91. 
Douglas, Capt. Andrew, 31. 
Dover, press-gang at, 56, 60, 62, 

197-8, 248. 
Downs, crimpage in the, 49. 
press-gang in, 13, 56, 116, 145, 

224, 225. 
Doyle, Lieut., 199. 
Dreadnought^ H.M.S., 44, no, 184. 
Drummers pressed for the Navy, 

Dryden, Michael, illegally pressed, 

65, 272. 
Dryden's sister, 272. 
Dublin, sham gangs at, 68, 69, 199. 

the press-gang at, 115. 
Duke, H.M.S., 314. 
Duke of Vandome, H.M.S., 317. 
Duncan case, the, 14. 
Dundas, Henry, 104. 
Dundonald, Lord, Autobiography^ 

Dunkirk, H.M.S., 44. 

^•Eccentricity leads to impressment, 
245, 246, 

Eddystone lighthouse, building de- 
layed through impressment of 
workmen, 105. 
builders of the third, protected, 

keepers at, put inward-bound 
ships' crews ashore, 153. 

Edinburgh, press-gang at, 56. 

Edmund and Mary collier, 264. 

Edward III. on the Navy, 28. 

EHzabeth, Queen, 96. 

Elizabeth ketch, 89. 

Ely bargemen, press-gang among, 

/ 92. 

-/Emergency crews of men unfit for 
pressing supplied to merchant- 
men by the crimps, 150-3. 
Emergency men working on their 
own account, 153, 154. 
places of muster for, 152. 
English Eclogues. See Southey, R. 
Evading the press-gang. See under 
Press-gang, How it was evaded. 
Evans, Richard, keeper of Glou- 
cester Castle, 282. 




Exemption from impressment, not 
a right, 79. 

of foreigners, 80, 81. 

negroes not included, 82. 

of landsmen only theoretical, 80. 

property no qualification for ex- 
emption, 80. 

of harvesters, 83, 84. 

of gentlemen, judged by appear- 
ances, 84, 

below 1 8 and over 5 5 years, 84, 8 5. 

of apprentices dependent on cir- 
cumstances, 85, 86. 
/of merchant seamen dependent 
on circumstances, 86, 87. 
^of masters, mates, boatswains, 
and carpenters dependent on 
circumstances, 87-9. 

of some of crew of whalers, 90. 

of Thames wherrymen by quota 
system, 92. 

of Tyne keelman by the same, 93. 

of Severn and Wye trow-men by 
10% levy, 94. 

did not extend to turf boats on 
Shannon and Blackwater, 95. 

special for four on each fishing 
vessel, and later for all engaged 
in taking, curing, and selling 
fish, 97. 

of Worthing fishermen for a levy, 

of Scottish and Manx fishermen, 
t on similar terms, 99. 
'^ worthless without a document of 

protection, 100-2. 
Exeter, the press-gang at, 62, 179. 

Falmouth^ H.M.S., 145, 146, 238. 

Falmouth, press-gang at, 192. 

Faversham, the press-gang at, 176. 

Fermey H. M.S., 313. 

Ferries, a favourite haunt of the 
press-gang, 178. 

Fevers haniy H.M.S., 37. 

Fifers pressed for the Navy, 241. 

Fire on ship board, 147. 

Fisheries, carefully fostered, three 
fish days made compulsory, 95. 
became a great nursery for sea- 
men, few exemptions granted, at 
first special concessions only to 
the whale and cod fisheries, 96. 

Fisheries, continued— 
later only such number as the 
warrant specified might be ^ 
taken, and these the Justices ^ 
chose ; in 1 801 no person em- 
ployed in taking, curing, or 
selUng fish could be impressed, 

with their best men impressed, 
only small smacks could be 
worked, 98. 
a quota system preferred by the 
fishermen of some ports, 98, 99. 
in Cornwall, the men turned tin- 
ners in the off-season, 157. 
Flags, flying without authority, 240. 

omission to dip, 239-40. 
Fleet, Liberty of, 261. 
Folkstone market-boats, 117. 
Folkstone, press-gang at, 56, 60. 
Forcible entry by the press-gang 

illegal, 199. 
Foreigners impressed, 13, 81, 148. 
theoretically exempt, 80, 81. 
married to English wives con- 
sidered naturalised, 81. 
in emergency crews, 153. 
Frederick the Great, 311, 312. 
'Freeholders at one time exempt 

from impressment, 13-15, 82. 
Fubbsy H.M.S., 134. 

Gage, Capt., 88. 

Galloper^ tender to the Dread- 
nought^ 119. 

Ganges, H.M.S., 274. 

Garth, Dr., 41. 

Gaydon, Lieut., 61. 

Gentlemen exempt from the im- 
press, but j udged by appearance 
and manner, 84. 

Gibbs, Capt., 61. 

Glory, H.M.S., 34. 

Gloucester, the press-gang at, 178. 

Gloucester Castle used as press- 
room, 281^ 282. 
the keeper's magic palm, 282. 

Godalming, the press-gang at, 55, 

Golden, John, Lord Mayor's barge- 
man, wrongfully impressed, 93. 

Good, James, midshipman, 62. 

Goodave, Midshipman, 291, 292. 



Gooding, Richard, 243. 

Gosport, the press-gang at, 184, 

189, 190, 242. 
Gravesend, the press-gang at, 176. 
Gray, John, 249. 
Great Yarmouth, press-gang at, 56, 

114, 164, 246. 
Greenock, crimpage at, 49. 
press-gang at, 56, 60, 213-5. 
Trades Guild, 213-5. 
Greenock ferries, the press-gang at, 

Greenwich Hospital, 43. 
Grimsby, the press-gang at, 1 14. 

Habeas Corpus, writs of, as means 
of arresting, and so freeing, 
pressed men for debts not 
owing, 309. 

Half-pay officers, their projects 
and inventions, 21. 

Hamoaze, the, an entrepot for 
pressed men, 293. 

Harpooners exempt from impress- 
ment, 90. 

Harrison, Lieut., 214. 

Hart, Alexander, 198. 

Harwich^ H.M.S., 31. 

Haverfordwest, press-gangat, 56,61. 

Hawke, Admiral Sir Edward, 230, 

Hawke, H.M.S., 316. 

Haygarth, Lieut., 218. 

Health and illness, 40, 41. 

Hector, H.M.S., 57. 

Herbert, Emanuel, 205. 

Hind armed sloop, 82. 

Historical Relation of State Affairs. 
See Lutterell, N. 

Hogarth's " Stage Coach," 104. 

Hook, Joseph, 272. 

Hope tender, 237. 

Hotten, J. C, List of Persons of 
Quality, etc., who went from 
England to the American 
Plantations, 262. 

Hull, press-gang at, 62, 66. 

Humber, the press-gang on, 136. 

Hurst Castle, the press-gang at, 1 14. 

Ilfracombe, the press-gang at, 61. 
Impressment. See Pressed labour. 
Informers, 188. 

Inland waterways and the gang 
at one time without the juris- 
diction of the admirals, 90-1. 

Innes, Capt, 82. 

Ipswich, the press-gang at, 203. 

Isis, H.M.S., 241. 

Isle of Man fishermen, 99. 

Jackson, Daniel, pressed from the 

Chester Volunteers, 220. 
Jamaica, 50, 51. 
Jason, H.M.S., 52. 
Jervis, John, Earl of St. Vincent, 259. 
Jews, pressed on account of bandy 

legs, 244. 
John and Elizabeth pink, 223, 224. 
John, King, impressment under, 4- 

7, 28, 80. 
Johnson, Rebecca Anne, 267. 
Jones, Paul, 141, 204. 
Justice, A., Dominion and Laws of 

the Sea, 28, 82. 

Keith, A., parson of the Fleet, 261. 
Observations on the Act for 
Preventing Clandestine Mar- 
riages, 261. 

Kilkenny, the press-gang at, 290. 

King's Lynn, press-gang at, 63, 71, 
89, 142, 156, 180, 250. 

Kingston, William, case of, 13. 

King William, Indiaman, 224, 225. 

Lady Shore, the, 249. 

Landsmen exempt only in theory, 

82, 83. 
Latham, Capt., 313. 
Law officers' opinions on pressing, 

14-6, 68, 70, 75> 79, 88, 93, 196, 

198, 219, 282, 292, 297, 301, 

eave, stoppage of, 44, 45. 
Leeds, the press-gang at, 164. 
Leith, crimpage at, 49. 
press-gang at, 56, 59, 212, 213, 

Lennox, H.M.S., 163, 316. 
Letting, John, pressed with two 

protections on him, 102. 
Lewis, Edward, chaplain, 37. 
Libraries, ships', 43. 
Lichfield, H.M.S., 241. 




Marines, 128, 129. 

Marooned crews on Lundy Island, 

158, 159. 
Martin galley, 210. 
Mary smuggler, 135. 
Masters, conditions of exemption, 

Mastery of the sea, a necessity for 
, England, 19. 
Mates, conditions of exemption, 

Medway, press-gang on, 139-40. 
yMedway^ H.M.S., 189, 190. 
the press-gang at,,^en in lieu, 125-9, 153. 

''^Merchant seamen, conditions 

Ucorm, H.M.S., 118. 

Limehouse Hole, the press-gang at, 

Lindsay, Admiral the Earl of, 

Instructions^ 31. 
Linesmen on whalers exempt from 

impressment, 90. 
Liskeard, the press-gang at, 179. 
List of Persons of Quality^ etc., who 

went from England to 


American Plantations. 
Hotten, J. C. 
Litchfield, H.M.S., 32 
1/ 182. 
" Liverpool, crimpage at, 49. 

press-gang at, 56, 64, 163, 185, 
196, 204, 218, 219, 220, 248. 
Lodden Bridge, the press-gang at, 

London, the press-gang in, 174, 

175, 206, 216. 
Londonderry, the press-gang at, 


Longcroft, Capt., 61. 

Loo, H.M.S., 196. 

Love, Henry, gets life protection as 
promised by Pitt and Dundas, 

Lowestoft, the press-gang at, 114. 

Lulworth, 157. 

Lundy Island, safe from the press- 
gang, but not to the sailors' 
liking, 158. 
crews marooned on, 158. 

Lutterell, N., Historical Relation of 
State Affairs, 262. 
Capt. Hon. Jas., 274, 275. 

Lymington, the press-gang at, 294. 

M 'Bride, Admiral, 61. 

M'Cleverty, Capt, 217, 218. 

M 'Donald, Alexander, impressed 
under the age of twelve, 85. 
Charles, 247. 

M'Gugan's wife, 269. 

M'Kenzie, Lieut., 272, 

M'Quarry, Lachlan, 271. 

Magna Carta, its provisions con- 
trary to impressment, 5-7. 

Mansfield, Lord, 16. 

Margate, the press-gang at, 176. 

Maria brig, 193. 



exemption, 86-9. 
unprotected when sleeping ashore, 

the most valuable asset to the 
1/ Navy, 107. 
•Merchant service, hard conditions 

of crews, 28. 
Mercury, H.M.S., 196. 
Messenger, George, 136. 
Mike, James, hanged for desertion, 

Moll Flanders, 299. 
Monarch, H.M.S., 314. 
Monmouth, H. M.S., 44. 
Monumenta furidica, 30. 
Morals in the Navy, 258-9. 
improved by Jervis, Nelson, and 

Collingwood, 259. 
Moriarty, Capt., 165. 
Mortar sloop, 317. 
Mostyn, Admiral, 314. 
Mediator tender, 273, 275. 
Mitchell, Admiral Sir D., 274. 
Montagu, Admiral, 42. 
Mousehole, safe from the press- 
gang, 158. 
Moverty, Thomas, pressed, not 

having protection on him, loi. 

Nancy of Deptford, 260. 
Naseby, H.M.S., 36. 
Nassau, H.M.S., 35. 
Naval History. See Brenton, E. P. 
Navy, the growth of, in i8th 
century, 20. 
natural sources of supply of 

crews, 20. 
hard conditions of service in, 29. 



Navy, continued— 
discipline in, 30-5. 
provisions in, 36-8. 
comforts in, 39-40. 
Negroes not exempt from im- 
pressment, 82. 
Nelson, Admiral Lord, 24, 40, 47, 

48,61, 110,259. 
Nemesis^ H.M.S., 198. 
Newcastle-upon-Tyne, press-gang 
at, 56, 61, 94, 186, 188, 193, 204. 
grand protection enjoyed by, 93. 
New England, 51. 
Newgate compared with the press- 
room, 280, 281, 
Newhaven, the press-gang at, 164, 

Newland, safe from the press-gang, 

Newquay, safe from the press- 
gang, 158. 
Nore, the press-gang at the, 116, 
the mutiny at, 273-9. 
an entrepot for pressed-men, 293. 
Norfolk^ Indiaman, 145. 
Norris, John, 274. 
North Forland, press-gang at, 116. 
Nymph, H.M.S., 33, 35. 

Oakley, Lieut., 174. 

Oaks, Lieut., 14, 221. 

O'Brien, Lieut., 198. 

Observations on Corporeal Punish- 
ment^ Impressment, etc. See 
Penrose, Admiral Sir V. C. 

Observations on the Act for Pre- 
venting Clandestine Marriages. 
See Keith, A. 

Observations on the Navy. See 
Burchett, J. 

Okehampton,the press-gang at, 179. 

Onions, Thomas, 246. 

Orford, H.M.S., 137. 

Orkney fishermen, 99. 

Osborne, Admiral, 231, 

Osmer, Lieut., 194. 

Otter sloop, 88. 

Oyster vessels, 119. 

Pallas, H.M.S., 25. 
Parker, Richard, president of the 
mutineers at the Nore, 273-9. 

Parkgate, a resort of seamen, 163, 

Paying off discharged entire crews, 

Paying the shot, 124. 

Pay of sailors, 43-5. 
deferred, 44-6. 

Pembroke, Earl of. Lord High 
Admiral, 297. 

Penrose, Admiral Sir V. C, Ob- 
servations on Corporeal Punish- 
ment, Impressment, etc., 44. 

Pepys, S., 9, 11,41,74,78,271. 

Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, 
12, 13. 

Petitions of seamen of the Fleet 
and others, 17, 34, 35, 68, 83, 
197, 271, 283, 304, 305, 308, 
318, 320, 322. 

Phoenix, H.M.S., 238, 316. 

Pill, a favourite haunt of sailors, and 
shunned by gangsmen, 159- 
61, 272. 

Pilots, 141, 142, 154. 

Pitt, William, 104, 165. 

Plymouth, the press-gang at, 89, 
176, 205, 273. 

Polpero, safe from the press-gang, 

Poole, press-gang at, 65, 90, 157, 
194, 195, 203, 236, 242. 
mayor refuses to back press- 
warrants, 90, 193. 

Popham, Admiral Sir Home, his 
schemefor coast defence, 165- 

Portland Bill, press-gang off, 229. 

Portland Island, 157. 

Portsmouth, desertions at, 48. 
the press-gang at, 176, 184, 228, 
242, 263. 

Post-chaise, sailors in, 185, 186. 

Press-boats sunk at sea, 222-5. 

Pressed labour (see also Press- 
gang), antiquity of, i, 3. 
for civil occupations, i. 
for warfare, 2. 
means of enforcing, 2, 3, 5, 

contrary to the spirit of Magna 

Carta, 5, 6. 
penalties for resistance, 7. 
derivation of the term, 9, 10. 



Pressed labour, continued— 
the classes from which drawn, 

II, 12. 

exemptions from, 1 3. 

necessity of, in English Navy, 

its crippling effect on trade, 20. 
Press-gang, the— 
why it was a necessity for the 
Navy, 23-52. 

its services not needed by some 
captains, 25. 
what it was, 54-76. 

the official and the popular 
views, 54. 

the class of men it was com- 
posed of, 54, 55. 

its quarters, landsmen joining 
the land force not to be 
pressed for sea service, 55. 

ship-gangs entirely seamen, 
varying numbers in gang, 56. 

the officers, 56, 57. 

the shore service the grave of 
promotion, 57. 

general character of officers 
ashore, 58-9. 

duties of the Regulating Cap- 
tain, 60. 

pay and road money, etc., 60-2. 

perquisites, peculation, and 
bribery in the service, 63-6. 

sham-gangs, 66-70. 

the rendezvous, 70-2. 

boat's arms, 72. 

press warrant, 73-6. 
whom the gang might take,77-io5. 

primarily those who used the 
sea, 77. 

later on trade suffers from the 
gang, 78. 

exemption granted as an in- 
dulgence, 79. 

the foreigner first exempted, 80. 

but not if he had an English 
wife, and was soon assumed 
to have one, 81. 

negroes not exempt, lands- 
men theoretically only, 82. 

harvesters were exempt if hold- 
ing a certificate, 83, 84. 

gentlemen exempt if dressed 
as such, 84. 

Press-gang, whom the gang might 
take, continued— 

only those proved to be between 
eighteen and fifty-five, 84. 

the position of apprentices was 
uncertain, 85, 86. 

to press merchant seamen was 
resented by trade, 86, 87. 

masters, mates, boatswains, 
and carpenters were exempt, 

colliers were exempt up to a 
certain proportion, 88. 

ship protections did not count 
on shore, 89. 

mate was not entitled to liberty 
unless registered at the 
rendezvous, 89. 

harpooners were protected out 
of season on land or on 
colliers, 90. 

the press-gang preyed upon its 
fellows, 91. 

watermen, bargemen, and canal 
boat-dwellers were con- 
sidered to use the sea, 91, 92. 

Thames watermen and some 
others exempt if certain 
quota of men supplied, 92-4. 

large numbers pressed from 
Ireland, 95. 

fishermen indifferently pro- 
tected, but fisheries fostered, 

all protected persons bound to 
carry their protection on 
them, 100-2. 

an error in protection invali- 
dated it, 102. 

protections often disregarded, 
* special protections, 104-5. 
•/its activities afloat, 106-142. 

the merchant seamen the prin- 
cipal quest, 106. 

the chain of sea-gangs, 107-19. 

the outer rings, frigates press- 
ing for their own crews and 
armed sloops as tenders to 
ships of the line, and the 
vessels employed by regulat- 
ing captains at the large 
ports, 108-13. 



Press-gang, its activities afloat, 
continued — 

the inner ring of boat-gangs in 
harbour or on rivers, 114-9 > 
their methods, 117, 118. 

methods of pressing at sea, 1 19- 

complications arising from 
pressing at sea, 1 24-9. 

their varied success, 130. 

and the right to search foreign 
vessels for English seamen, 
131. 132. 

and convoys, 132. 

and privateers, 132-4. 

and smugglers, 134-6. 

smuggling by, 137. 

and ships in quarantine, 138-40. 

and transports, 140, 141. 

and cartel ships, 141. 

and pilots, 141, 142. 
how it was evaded, 143-71. 

in the ship, with her or from 
her, 144. 

or a combination, 145, 146. 

hiding on board from, 147. 

evasions assisted by the skip- 
per, 148, 149. 

and men in lieu and foreigners 
in emergency crews, 153. 

pilots and fisherman taken by, 
when acting as emergency 
men, 154. 

evaded by desertion from the 
ship, 154, 155. 

evaded by hiding on land and 
changing quarters, 155-7. 

Cornwall dangerous for, 157. 

safe retreats from, 158-61, 163. 

empowered to take Severn and 
Wye trow-men, 162. 

unsuccessful efforts of, 163-5. 

evaded by borrowed, forged, 
and American protections 
^ and by disguises, 168-71. 
Vwhat it did ashore, 172-201. 

the sailor betrayed by marked 
characteristics ; sailors out- 
numbered on shore by the 
gang, 173. 

its object the pressing of 
sailors who escaped the sea- 
gangs, 174. 

Press-gang, what it did ashore, 
continued — 

its London rendezvous and 

taverns used, 174, 175. 
the inland distribution of, 176, 

the class of places selected for 

operations of, 176, 177. 
the land-gangs necessarily am- 
bulatory, 179, 180. 
its resting and refreshment 

places chosen for purposes 

of capture, the methods 

adopted, 180. 
V'^-hot press at Brighton, 18 1-3. 
a ruse at Portsmouth, 184. 
how the sailors' liking for drink 

was turned to account, 

the amount of violence used, 

outside assistance to, 187-9. 
rivalry between gangs, 189- 

assisted by mayors and county 

magistrates, 191. 
assisted by the military, 191, 

townsmen who sided with the 

sailors against, 192, 193. 
brutal behaviour of, at Poole, 

resisted at Deal and Dover, 

forcible entry by, illegal, 199. 
magistrates consign vagabonds 

and disorderly persons to, 

how it was resisted, 202-32. 
various weapons used against* 

203, 204. 
gangs-men killed by sailors re- 
sisting them, 206. 
sailors killed by gangsmen, 

206, 207. 
by armed bands of seamen, 

by the populace in attempting 

to impress, 210. 
pressed-men recaptured from, 

tenders attacked, 215-7 
rendezvous attacked, 217-22. 



Press-gang, resisted, continued— 

press-boats attacked and sunk, 

resistance when the press-gang 
had come abroad, 225-32. 

the hardship of impressment on 
arrival from long voyage, 
225, 226. 

the only means of resistance, 

a sailor's death in such case 
" accidental," casual, un- 
avoidable, or disagreeable, 

a case in point, 228-32. 
at play, 233-56. 

humorous reason given for im- 
pressing a person, 206. 

inculcating manners by means 
of the press, 233. 

the respect due to naval officers, 

the outsider liable to be pressed 
for breach of naval etiquette, 
rudeness to the press- 
gang treated the same 
way, 236-7, 238. 

damages from officers for 
wrongful impressment, fail- 
ure to dip the flag, or flying an 
unauthorised flag, might lead 
to pressing from that crew, 
239, 240. 

unseanianlike management of 
a ship laid the crew open to 
pressing, 241. 

pipers and fiddlers, etc., im- 
pressed, 242. 

ridiculous reasons given 
for impressing, 242. 

unsuspecting passenger in a 
smuggler declared owner of 
contraband and pressed, 243. 

tattoo marks and bandy legs 
lead to pressing, 244. 

any eccentricity sufficient to 
ensure the attention of the 
press-gang, 245, 246. 

used by trustees to keep heirs 
from their money, and by 
parents to rid them of incor- 
rigible sons, 247. 

Press-gang, at play, continued— 
used for purposes of retaliation, 

used by strikers to get rid of a 

"blackleg," 250-1. 
used by stern parent to part his 

daughter and her lover, 

a drunken cleric's revenge by 

means of, 251-2. 
by pressing a sailor, causes his 

late bedfellow to be hanged 

as his murderer, 252-6. 
and women, 257-79. 

of women and sailors in 

general, 257-61. 
lack of sentiment in gangsmen, 

women impressed by, 263, 264. 
women masquerading as men 

to go to sea, 264, 268. 
women in the gang, 268. 
the hardship brought on women 

by the gang, 268, 271. 
fostered vice and bred paupers, 

women who released sailors 

from the press-gang, 272, 


the devotion of RichardParker's 
wife, 273-9. 
In the clutch of, 280-310. 

the press-room, what it was ; 
strongly built and small as it 
might be, could hold any 
number, 280. 

Bristol gaol and Gloucester 
Castle used as press-rooms, 

inadequate precautions for re- 
taining pressed men on the 
road, regulations for rendez- 
vous, 282. 

victualling in the press-room, 
283, 284. 

regulating or examining for fit- 
ness for service, 284. 

fabricated ailments and defects, 

dispatching pressed men to 
the fleet, 289-94. 

tenders hired for transport of 
pressed men, 294. 



Press-gang, In the clutch of, con- 
tinued — 

comfort and health of pressed 

men on tenders, 295, 296. 
the victualling of pressed men 

on tenders, 297. 
prevention of escape, 299-301. 
an attempt to escape — with the 

Tasker tender escapes from, 

300, 301. 
The (jnion tender cut out from 

the Tyne by the pressed 

men, 301, 302. 
various excitements aboard, 

a final exammation, 304, 305. 
petitions, 305, 306, 308. 
substitutes, 306-7. 
How the gang went out, 311-29. 
causes of withdrawal of press- 
gang, 311. 
the increasingly bad quality of 

the product, 312-9. 
the spirit of restlessness and 
mutiny engendered, 320, 
the injury to trade, 323. 
only continued so long by the 
apathy of the people, 324-5. 
the cost of impressing, 326-8. 
Press-Gang, or Love in Low Life^ 

The, 261. 
Press warrants, 73-6, 90, 97, 108, 
forged, 69. 
Presting, the original term and its 

meaning, 9, 10. 
Prest money, 10, 61, 74. 
Price, Capt, 237. 

Prince George guardship at Ports- 
mouth, 228. 
Princess Augusta, a letter of 

marque, 133, 134. 
Princess Augusta tender, 229. 
Princess Louisa, H.M.S., 260. 
Privateers, loss of seamen by, 50- 
2, 146. 
pressing from, 132-4. 
recapture of pressed crew of, 
Prize money, 45. 

Profane abuse of crews by officers, 

Protections, for masters, mates, 
boatswains, and carpenters, 87. 

worthless, if the holder were 
ashore, 88. 

bound to be always carried, 100-2. 

sHghtest error in description 
invalidated, 102. 

were often disregarded, 103. 

special, 104, 105. 

for men in lieu, 128. 

for crews of convoys and priv- 
ateers expired on arrival in 
home waters, 132, 143. 

lent, bought, and exchanged, 168. 

American, 169-71. 
Provisions in the Navy, 36-8. 

Quarantine, 138, 140. 
Queensferry, the press-gang at, 178. 
Quota men, 22, 92-4, 98, 99, 165, 
275, 289. 

^ R " for " run » in ships' books to 

denote deserter, 151. 
Raleigh, Sir Walter, 28, 38. 
Ramsgate, the press-gang at, 251. 
Reading, the press-gang at, 179. 
Registration of seamen, 22. 
Regulating, i,e. examination of 
pressed-men for fitness, 284. 

ailments and defects fabricated 
or assumed, 284-9. 
Regulating captains, 60, 85. 

character of a, 58, 59. 
Repulse, H.M.S., 276. 
Rendezvous, 55, 70-2, 213. 

attacked, 217-22, 272. 

regulations of, 282, 283. 
Rescue of pressed men from the 

gang, 211-20. 
Reunion, H.M.S., 34. 
Rhode Island, 51. 
Rice, 42. 
Richard IL, 90. 

Richards, John, midshipman, 62. 
Richardson, Lieut., 137. 
''Right of search, 131, 132. 
Roberts, Capt. John, 89. 
Rochester, the press-gang at, 195. 
Rodney, Admiral Lord, 179, 228. 
Roebuck, H.M.S., no. 
Romsey, the press-gang at, 179. 
Routh, Capt., 164. 



Royal Sovereign, H.M.S., 139, I47> 

Ruby gunship, 26. 

Rudsdale, Lieut., 118. 

Rum, 39, 40. 

/?tt/^r/, H.M.S., 317. 

Russia, impressment in, 12, 13. 

Russian Navy, 12. 

Ryde, the Lord of the Manor, 
claimed the privilege of pri- 
vate protections for his ferry- 
men to Portsmouth and Gos- 
port, 105. 
the press-gang at, 180. 

Rye, H.M.S., 212. 

Rye, the press-gang at, 141. 

Sailor, the word disfavoured by 
Navy Board, 26. 
a creature of contradictions, 26, 

27, 45. 
St. Ives, safe from the press-gang, 

St. Lawrence River, deserters in, 47. 
St. Vincent, Earl of. See Jervis, J. 
Salisbury, the press-gang at, 179. 
Sanders, Joseph, 307. 
Sandwich, H.M.S., flag-ship at the 

Nore, 275, 277, 278. 
Sax, Lieut., 229. 
Scipio, H.M.S., 316. 
Scott, John, pressed when his pro- 
tection was lying in his coat 

beside him, loi. 
Scottish fishermen, 99. 
Seahorse, H.M.S., 36, 69. 
" Serving out slops," 30. 
Severn trow-men, exempted from 

impress by 10% levy, 94. 
Court of Exchequer rules the 

reverse, 162. 
Seymour, Lieut., 140. 
Sham gangs, 66-70, 268. 
Shandois sloop, 125. 
Shannon, H.M.S., 34, 322. 
Shannon, men working turf boats 

on, not exempt, 95. 
Shark, sloop, 224, 225. 
" She " applied to a ship, a recent 

use, 236. 
Sheerness, crimpage at, 49. 
Shields, press-gang at, 14, 64, 247, 


Ships, impressment of, 4, 5. 
Shipwrights in Scotch yards could 

be pressed as carpenters on 

warships, 88. 
Shirley, Governor, 215. 
Shoreham, the press-gang at, 182. 
Shrewsbury, H.M.S., 197, 224, 225. 
Shrewsbury, sham gangs at, 67. 
Sloper, Major-General, 182, 192. 
Smeaton, John, 105, 
Smugglers, crew of, pressed, 136. 
unsuspecting passenger declared 

owner and pressed, 243. 
Solebay, H.M.S., 33, 203. 
Southampton, the press-gang at, 

Southey, Robt., English Eclogues, 

Southsea Castle, H.M.S., 196. 
Spithead, crimpage at, 50. 

an entrepot for pressed men, 293. 
Spy sloop of war, 135. 
Squirrel, H.M.S., 209. 
Stag, H.M.S., 135. 
Stag privateer, 219. 
Stangate Creek, the fray at, 140. 
Stephens, George, impressed at 

thirteen, 85. 
Stephenson, George, 193. 
Stepney Fields, press-gang at, 208, 

Stillwell, John, 247. 
Stourbridge, the press-gang at, 178, 

207, 208, 292. 
Strike-me-blind. See Rice. 
Sturdy, Ralph, shot by the press- 
gang on the Britannia, 229. 
Sunderland, press-gang at, 64, 65, 

Surgeons, 36, 41, 60. 
Swansea, 61. 

Tailors pressed on account of bandy 

legs, 244. 
Talbot, Mary Anne, 265. 
Tasker tender, 299. 
Tassell, William, a protected mate, 

pressed ashore, 89. 
Taunton, Denny-Bowl quarry, near 

— three girls as sham gang, 70, 

the press-gang at, 179. 
Taylor, Lieut., 216. 



Taylor, William, 251. 
Teede, John, undone by tattoo 
marks, 244. 
'lenders, 108-10, 112-5. 
attacked, 215-7. 
Vliired for transport of pressed 
men, 294. 
the health and comfort of pressed 

men on, 296. 
their victualling, 297. 
attempts to escape from and 
with, 300-3. 
Thames, press-gang on the, 115,116. 
wherrymen exempted by levy of 
one in five, 93. 
Thetis, H.M.S., 189. 
Thomson, Lieut., 241. 
Thurlow, Lord, 14, 93. 
Ticket men. See Men in lieu. 
Tobacco, 39. 

Trading classes the greatest 
sufferers from impressment, 78. 
not without resentment, 78, 79. 
various trades gradually ex- 
empted, 80-100. 
Tramps. See Vagabonds. 
Transports, 140, 141. 
Travelling, cost of, 60, 61. 
Trial and Life of Richard Parker^ 

2775 279- 

Trim, WiUiam, 194, 203. 

Trinity House, loi. 

Triton brig, 118. 

Triton, Indiaman, 145. 

Turning over of crews, 24, 25. 

Tyne keelman exempt from im- 
press by levy — the men sup- 
pHed being obtained by them 
by bounties, 93. 

Union tender, 301. 
Utrecht, H.M.S., 251. 

Vagabonds handed over to the 

press-gang, 199. 
Vanguard, H.M.S., 47, 119. 
Vernon, Admiral, 39, 41, 50, 319. 
Victualling in the press-room, 283, 

Virginia, 51. 

\/ Wages due to sailors to date of 
impressment, 124, 125. 

Walbeoff, Capt., 194. 

Ward, Ned, Wooden World Dis- 
sected, 27. 

Waterford, press-gang at, 58, 59, 
83, 118, 196, 217, 218, 237, 242. 

Watermen's language, 239. 

Watson, Lieut., 237. 

Watts, John, punished with 170 
lashes, 31. 

Weapons used against the press- 
gang, 203, 204, 216. 

Weir, Alexander, 214. 

Wellington, Duke of, 33. 

Whalers, some of crew of, exempt 
from impressment, 90. 

Whitby, the press-gang at, 221, 272. 

White, John, pressed at Bristol 
ninety yards from his vessel, 

Whitefoot, James, impressed at 
Bristol, 83. 

Whitworth, Charles, Envoy to 
Russia, 13. 

" Widows' men," 52. 

Williams, John, 308. 

Willing Traveller smuggler, 135. 

Wilson, John, shot by the press- 
gang on the Britannia, 229. 

Winchelsea, H.M.S., 34. 

Winstanley, London butcher, 
served as pressed man 16 
years, 83. 

Wolf 2LX\x\edi sloop, 136. 

Women and the Press-gang, 159, 
188. See also under Press- 
gang, "The Press-gang and 
Women," 257-79. 

Wooden World Dissected. See 
Ward, Ned. 

Wool, illegal export of, 136. 

Worth, Capt., 218. 

Worthing fishermen, 98. 

Wye trow-men exempted from 
impress by 10% levy, 94. 
Court of Exchequer rules the 
reverse, 162. 

Yarmouth Roads, the press-gang 

in, 135. 
" Yellow Admirals," 57. 
Yorke, Sol.-Gen., 75. 
Young, Admiral, 49. 
his torpedo, 165, 331-4. 







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a great deal of information about the King that was 
not generally known before. The many years that 
Mr. Legge has spent in contact with the Court 
peculiarly fit him to write about King Edward, and 
the numerous fresh stories and anecdotes which will 
be found in his new volume are further evidence of 
the wide range of his knowledge of the interesting 
facts and features of King Edward's life. 




OF ALDENBURG (1652-1732) 

Translated and Edited by her descendant 

Illustrated with unpublished portraits from Private 

Price I dr. net 

This is the life story from her own pen of a singularly 
attractive woman who, though born *' in the purple," was 
the victim of almost endless tyranny, persecution and 

A member of a family famous for bravery and public 
service since the days of her ancestor Louis de la TremoiUe 
— the Blameless Knight — she left the country of her birth 
when a girl because of religious intolerance and retired to 
Denmark, where she lived with her cousin the Queen. 
Sought in marriage by three kings and an infinite array of 
German princelings, she gave her hand with her heart to 
Anthony I. Count of Aldenburg, only to have him snatched 
from her within 6 months after their marriage, poisoned at 
the instigation of his heir-presumptive. As a widow she 
suffered further persecutions from this man, and on the 
birth of her son a few months later, attempts were made to 
deprive her of the guardianship and to rob the child of its 
inheritance. Beset by every possible difficulty and hard- 
ship, and without the means to obtain even sufficient food, 
the poor mother journeyed to Vienna and besought the 
protection of the Emperor. 

Fearing that she might die before her son was old enough 
to understand all that had taken place, Charlotte Am^He 
wrote her life for his guidance. 


Afloat and Ashore 


Illustrated Price los. 6d, net 

The practice of pressing men for the sea service of 
the Crown would seem to have been resorted to even 
in the days of the Saxon Kings, and to have continued 
intermittently up to the dawn of the i8th century, 
when naval needs having grown in volume and 
urgency, the press net was cast wider and wider 
until at last, during that great century of struggle, 
practically every class of the population was subject 
to its merciless inroads. 

In its inception, development and extraordinary cul- 
mination the Impress System of the i8th century, of 
which the Press Gang was at once the embodiment 
and the active exponent, constitutes perhaps the 
greatest anomaly and certainly the grossest imposition 
any free people ever submitted to. Unlawful, oppres- 
sive and unjust, it was nevertheless tolerated and 
fostered for more than a hundred years. Standing as 
a bulwark against aggression and conquest, it ground 
under its heel the very people it protected, making 
them slaves in order to keep them free. Masquer- 
ading as a protector it dragged the wage earner from 
his home and left his starving family to the mercies 
of the parish. 

Around the doings of the Press Gang, afloat and 
ashore, Mr. Hutchinson has written a racy and vivid 
book, and in telling the story of their amazing 
activities in building up our navy and making it 
master of the seas, he touches upon almost every 
phase of the naval life and administration during 
that exciting century. 




Or Hamworth Happenings 

By the Author of ^^ Leaves from a Life,^^ etc. 

Illustrated Price los. 6d. net 

Readers of *^ Leaves from a Life," ^* Leaves from a 
Garden," and other books by this charming writer, 
will find ''The Year's Mind" entirely to their liking. 
There are many natural history anecdotes, numerous 
stories of country life are related, and rural scenes 
described with the glowing pen of a writer who knows 
and loves the country. 

STELLA (Lady Newborough) 


Illustrated Price los. 6d. net 

When this extraordinary book first made its appear- 
ance it created an amazing sensation all over Europe. 
Vigorous and successful efforts were at once made to 
suppress it, all the copies being bought up by agents, 
it is believed, of the Orleans family. Now it is again 
to be made available to the public, who will find it a 
volume of the greatest interest. Maria Stella was, as 
is well known, supposed to be the daughter of Philippe 
Egalite and to have been exchanged by him, in 
infancy, for a boy (the son of an Italian named 
Chiappini) who subsequently became Louis Philippe. 




Author of ** From the Bottom Up" 

Price 3J. 6d, net 

**This book," says the author in a foreword ** is 
the torn manuscript of the most beautiful life I ever 
knew. I have merely pieced and patched it together, 
and have not even changed or disguised the names 
of the little group of neighbours who lived with us at 
* the bottom of the world.'" 

It is a book whose human appeal is similar to that 
of ** Margaret Ogilvie," Barrie's beautiful tribute to 
his mother, 

Mr. Irvine's mother was an Irish peasant woman, 
with a great heart and a great spiritual insight, and 
the son's record tells very tenderly and beautifully 
of the love of Anna and Jamie, his parents ; of 
their grinding fight with famine and poverty, and of 
their many children, of whom Alexander was the 
youngest — the favourite boy, into whose hands the 
mother put **the handles of God's plough." It tells, 
also, of the neighbours in Antrim, of Anna's simple 
belief in the presence of God in ^'the least of His 
little ones," and of her creed, ** Love is enough." 




With an Autographed Portrait of the Author 

Price 3J. 6d, net 

This is a stirring drama by Europe's most pictur- 
esque monarch. It has been adapted from the original 
by Mr. W. M. Petrovitch and Mr. D. J. Volnay, and 
is published with His Majesty's authority. 



Author of '' Old World Places,'' etc. 

Illustrated Price 7^. 6d. net 



First Class Badge Holder of the National Skating 

With numerous Illustrations. Price 5^. net 





Presented by A. STODART WALKER 

Price 3^. 6d. net 

A most amusing parody upon the famous *^ Oxford 
Book of English Verse." 


An Up-to-date Book 


Price ss. net 

Special care has been taken to make this book 
thoroughly practical and suitable for readers of all 
incomes. Among the contents will be found : The 
Nursery, furniture and ventilation — How to get a 
Nurse, her duties and qualifications — Children's 
Clothing, how to cut out and make — Doll's Clothes 
— Dentition— Nursery Hygiene — Artificial Feeding-— 
The Milk Question — Nursery Diet and Menus — 
Exercise — Backward and Forward Children — Early 
Religious Training — Education on Kindergarten 
Lines— Children's Books — Left Handedness — Home- 
made Toys — Amusements and Games — The Care of 
Children in India, etc., etc. 





Member of the Academie Frangaise 
Officer of the Legion of Honour 

Price 6s, 

In this novel the distinguished French Academ- 
ician, Marcel Prevost shows the possible danger of 
employing foreign governesses in our homes. He 
accuses these '^Guardian Angels" of exercising a 
perverting influence on the minds of their pupils, and, 
not infrequently, of breaking up many a home through 
their secret liaisons with husbands and sons. 

It is no exaggeration to say that *' Guardian 
Angels " is one of the most remarkable novels that 
have been issued in any language during recent years. 

Man-of-the-world, eminent litterateur and keen 
observer of both sexes (his knowledge of feminine 
motives is almost staggering), M. Prevost has had 
the courage to attack the conventional acceptance 
of an ever-growing custom, and to paint, in a most 
powerful and daring manner, the picture of what he 
considers a grave and unheeded menace. 

Every married woman ought to read ** Guardian 
Angels " if only to be forewarned against a danger 
that may one day invade her own home. 




Author of '* Daughters of Ishmaely^ etc. 

Price 6r. 

The story of a young girl who marries a man thirty 
years older than herself. He has spent those thirty 
years mining in the West and is to all appearances as 
strong and vigorous as a man of twenty-five. She 
thinks she loves him and wants to love him, but at 
eighteen how can she tell ? And so they marry and 
in due course young blood asserts itself and they learn 
the lesson that nature teaches them. 


Author of *' Raffles;' etc. 

With Four Illustrations Price 3^. 6^?. net 

This is the story of one woman in a thousand who 
never for a moment lost her splendid loyalty to her 
lover and her friend, though all the evidence in the 
world seemed dead against him. 

It is quite one of the best mystery stories Mr. 
Hornung has ever written ; and it is a good mystery 
story because it is so much more — a story of character 
so strongly arousing the reader's sympathies that he 
hangs with breathless suspense upon the fate of the 
man and the woman whom he understands thoroughly 
and likes immensely. 



Author of^^A Wilderness of Monkeys j''' etc. 

Price 6s. 

Readers of Mr. Niven's earlier works will look with 
interest to his new novel, the scene of which is laid in 
Edinburgh. Mr. Niven already holds a prominent 
place among the school of modern realists, and the 
brilliant characterisation of some very interesting 
* types' which he gives us in * Ellen Adair' should do 
much to further enhance his reputation. 


An Extravaganza 


Author of '' The Mutable Many " / '' Stranleigh's 
Millions y' etc. 

Price 3^. dd, net 


Second Impression Price 6f. 

'* Raven, V.C. is a fine character, and the scenes 
on the India frontier, are splendidly done. The book 
is one of enthralling interest with an original and very 
lovable heroine." — Daily Express, 

**A fine stirring tale ... we very strongly recom- 
mend xC— Globe, 





Late Superintendent Criminal Investigation 
Department^ Scotland Yard 

Second Impression Price dr. 

** A rattling story — a murder mystery, with the most 
puzzling and exciting * ends ' to it, full of thrills and 
triumphs and checks and counter-checks, and with 
none of the nonsensical machinery of the shilling 
shocker in it. . . . Mr. Froest takes us behind the 
scenes at Scotland Yard and shows how, line upon line, 
inch by inch, a case is built up. Apart from the 
thumping excitements of the book (and they are 
countless) the character drawing is neatly done.'* — 

Daily News. 

** It is all highly realistic, and we are carried along 
breathlessly from start to finish . . . one of the 
cleverest detective stories we remember to have read 
for a long time past." — Pall Mall Gazette, 

** A rich feast of excitement . . . the character- 
isation ... is well done." — Spectator, 




Author of ** The Town of Crooked WaySy'' etc. 

Price 6s. 

Mr. Fletcher is the literary lord of the land of broad 
acres, and *^ Ferris of the Cherry Trees" is one of 
the best of his many fine novels. The Cherry Trees 
is the name of a farm. 

** Mr. J. S. Fletcher is one of the score of modern 
novelists who inspire their readers with confidence. 
The sound construction and strong characterisation 
of his workmanship . . . accord well with his home- 
spun scenes of Yorkshire manners." — Nation, 

** A fine story." — Morning Post, 

"It is the quiet, cumulative method of the true 
artist ; and the reader who gets his nose into the story 
will not want to skip a page. Of the strength and 
fine technique of the novel and its atmosphere, as 
well as the true studies of rural character, there is 
no doubt. A notable piece of work. " 

— Westminster Gazette, 


36 King St., Covent Garden, London, W.C. 


The WttiminnUr Pms (Gerrards Ltd.) 
411a Harrow R»ad, London W. 

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